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DEC 181990 


THE MIND of the 

A Consideration of 




" CO. LTD. 

' ', CHltTARANJ,AN: jiyKtff JR, 'CALCUTTA 







First Published 1937 

Printed in Great Britain 

"That immense register where Pliny has deposited the 
discoveries, the arts and the errors of mankind. ** GIBBON. 

"That crystal Is nothing else but Ice strongly congealed; 
that a diamond Is softened or broken by the blood of a goat; 
that bays preserve from the mischief of lightning and thun- 
der; that an elephant hath no joints; that storks will only 
live in republics.* 11 Sir Thomas Browne (^J^ulgar Errors) 

"Well, It is all very marvellous; drainage* sanitary 

systems, lighting,, hearing* feats of earthenware manufacture 
which would cause the potters of the Five Towns to-day to 
scratch their heads, wine-presses, Hourmiils* bathrooms 
with baths extraordinarily like those of 1927: all dating from 
over three thousand years ago. . , There are designs which 
clearly ought to bear the signatures of Matisse or Gauguin-'* 



ARCHAEOLOGY has at the moment a tremendously strong hold 

on the public interest and discoveries are being followed with 
enthusiasm all over the world* The counterbalancing interest 
lies in the written records that have been handed down to us. 

Without them the research for material evidence of the work- 
ings of civilisation would have little or no meaning; for re- 
discovered facts need the thought of the period lying behind 
those evidences. 

That is why Pliny*s great and comprehensive work will 
always command attention* One instance may be taken at 
random to illustrate the point: the old settlements of the lake- 
dwellers, Pliny saw the inhabitants of these strange regions 
on the northern shores of Europe with his own eyes and gives 
us a description of their miserable existence as compared 
with the happier mortals (in his opinion at least) who enjoyed 
the privileges of Roman rule. Yet to his surprise they pre- 
ferred to remain independent, uncivilised and apparently 
hideously uncomfortable. 

Then as regard science and art 7 of which Pliny treats with 
great fullness, one finds oneself Influenced by two emotions: 
the one, a feeling that the civilised world was much more 
modern than one had anticipated; the other a fascination felt 
for the insatiable curiosity and the vivid Imagination of the 
Greeks. The period of Greek science contained all that has 
contributed to make the modern world what it Is; and by far 
the greatest recapitulation of the movement occurs in the 
Natural History of Pliny* In the following pages It is the aim 
to give a iairly comprehensive idea of this Immense review, 
taken from an Elizabethan and now somewhat rare translation, 



of which a reprint, seeing that it runs to a million and a quarter 
or more words., would present some serious difficulties. 

But it will be asked: Was Pliny a reliable guide? It is 
important to weigh the point, because one of the first things 
to strike a student of his work is the strange diversity of 
opinion that surrounds him. He has been demeaned to the 
extent of being described as a collector of odds and ends of 
pseudo-scientific matter and credited with no more discrimina- 
tion in the process than a jack-daw a misconception that 
could only arise from a very casual and unintelligent acquaint- 
ance with the enormous range of Pliny's knowledge, and the 
judgment, even the humour, displayed by him. Other critics 
judge Pliny as in some unaccountable way responsible for the 
majority of the beliefs entertained in the earliest days of science, 
Against this view it may be urged that Pliny was no prophet 
nor in any way in advance of his age; he was merely its spokes- 
man and in that capacity fulfilled his mission. He was an 
historian of the same pattern as Herodotus (also a compiler of 
records) who set down many things which personally he did 
not credit but which in loyalty to his authorities lie considered 
it his duty to report, at the same time reserving his own 
judgment on the matter. "For myself, my duty is to report 
all that is said, but" he significantly added "1 am not 
obliged to believe it all alike, a remark which may be under- 
stood to apply to my whole History/* Oddly enough, on 
the few occasions when Herodotus departed from the rule he 
had imposed on himself he omitted on the score of sheer 
improbability things that later proved to be true- So credulity 
can cut both ways. 

Dr. Singer, who is naturally most interested in the portions 
of the Natural History devoted to medicine, seems to com- 
plain that Pliny writing in the first century had not the advan- 
tage of the knowledge possessed by scientists of a thousand or 
more years later* "In him", he says, "we have a collection of 
current views on the nature, origin and uses of plants, such as 
we might expect from an honest, industrious and gullible 
gentleman devoid of critical or scientific skill** He admits, 


however, that his contribution to science was "the prototype 

of the medical output of the next fifteen hundred years/' This 
at any rate may be considered as no mean achievement, to be 
followed as a leader of scientific thought for such a prodigious 
length of time, "His very discursiveness and love of gossip", 

he adds, "are our gain,, and though he can do nothing to 

advance medical knowledge he gives us much insight into 
medical practice in antiquity." What more, it might very 
reasonably be asked, was it ever in his power to give? 

Supposing, for the sake of argument, that it is true that 
Pliny's "remedies", as contained in certain plants, taking 
them as a whole, were often too good to be true that rue, 
for instance, was claimed to be able to cure a hundred or 
more complaints without any great difficulty. Do not our 
modern advertisements of patent medicines follow very much 
the same lines of guarantee? After all, was Pliny much more 
gullible than the modems? "Experience" may be taken to 
be just as delusive a guide as ever it was. Nor did Pliny 
himself fail to realise the impressionable character of the 
audience he was addressing, when he says distinctly: "Science 
and the opinion of the mob are in direct opposition". 

Turning to the more complimentary notices of the Natural 
History y Wight Duff in the Literary History of Rome in the 
Silver Age bestows on it the high praise that it ranks as * c one 
of the half-dozen most interesting books in the world"* 

Nordcnskiold, again, states In his History of Biology the 
opinion that next to Aristotle Pliny was "the most influential 
of the Biologists of classical antiquity". Dr. T* R. Glover 
describes him as "a bora collector with a passion for epigram, 
readable wherever you open him"; the only qualification he 
makes to this statement is that one would "rather read his 
Latin than construe it" an opinion amply justifying the use 
of the excellent translation which has been handed down to 
us rather than the original text* 

Finally,, there Is Gibbon's highly judicial and impartial state- 
ment that in this vast work Pliny has "deposited the dis- 
covcries, the arts, and the errors of mankind". In this lies its 



greatest merit as an historical document. In fact, to say that 
Pliny was just as learned as he was curious may fairly sum up 
the qualities that enabled him to present so complete a picture 
of antiquity. 

Another enquiry that may very naturally be made is: "What 
after all is the value of ancient science?" The man in the street 
might argue that since the greater part of this old science has 
been superseded it is therefore of no further use that it h 
no more worthy of pursuit than water which has run down 
the gutter or the waters of a river which have mingled with 
the sea. 

But this analogy carries a better construction. May not a 
true knowledge of science as a whole be in itself valuable? 
The lower reaches of a river may be admirable for the freer 
scope of communication and commerce; but the upper reaches 
also deserve to be explored, all the mysterious smaller tribu- 
taries, the curious and attractive backwaters, Hilaire Belloc 
has said that a man is only half a man who treads the sacred 
soil of Europe without feeling the solidity of the two thousand 
years beneath him. If this be true (it is a general appeal to the 
value of history) the principle applies equally to matters 
connected with the evolution of science. 

And from the point of humanism alone there is ? as Walter 
Pater once pointed out, an appeal "Nothing which has ever 
interested living men and women", he says, "can wholly lose 
its vitality no language they have spoken,, nor oracle beside 
which they have hushed their voices, no dream which has once 
been entertained by active human minds 7 nothing about which 
they have ever been passionate or expended time and zeal" 

In this highly perfected statement of the claims made on us 
by antiquity we become awake to the inexhaustible interest ol 
the ages. 

At the same time a warning is necessary to exercise some 
caution in offering too elaborate explanations on points where 
speculation was as brilliantly alive as amongst the Greeks. By 
knowing too much we only succeed in the end in starving the 
imagination. It is equally a mistake to imagine that the 



ancients were mere children where their science was concerned. 

On the contrary, although some of their guesses at truth may 
have been a little wide of the mark ? others were surprisingly 
close to the bull The dull people are those who, like Mr. 
Barlow in The Uncommercial Traveller^ would too frequently 

interpose their ineffective comments, "What right", Dickens 
complained, "had he to bore his way into my Arabian Nights? 
Yes he did. He was always hinting doubts of the veracity 
of Sinbad the Sailor. If he could have got hold of the Wonder- 
ful Lamp, I knew he would have trimmed it and lighted it, 
and delivered a lecture over it on the qualities of sperm-oil, 
with a glance at the whale fisheries. He would so soon have 
found out on mechanical principles the peg in the neck 
of the Enchanted Horse, and would have turned it the right 
way in so workmanlike a manner, that the horse could never 
have got any height into the air, and the story couldn't have 

An opinion has been quoted bearing on the discomfort 
entailed by reading Pliny's Latin, a remark that naturally 
suggested the desirability of someone else construing him for 
us. It is therefore fortunate that the Natural History has been 
known through many other tongues than the original The 
friend who first introduced the book to my notice knew it 
through a translation in Italian. But our own Elizabethan 
rendering which appeared within ten years of the Authorised 
Version of the Bible is a legacy which shares the rich glamour 
and distinction of that admirable period of English prose. 

This translation has therefore been used, and, wherever it 
has been quoted, has been slightly modernised in the matter of 
spelling, punctuation and sometimes also in economy of 
phrase where a little condensation has seemed advisable. But 
in no case has the atmosphere or the character of the original 
been interfered with. 

The sources of information on this vast field of ancient lore 
are far too numerous to be given in detail Amongst the many 
useful authorities available the following maybe recommended: 
Pfysical Science in the Time of Nero y by Clark and Geikie; 



Aristarchus ofSamos, by Heath; ffistory of Biology > by Norden- 
skiold; From Magic to Science, by Charles Singer; TAc Travels 
of Sir John Mandeville, a very curious mediaeval echo; and 
Greek Byways and Herodotus by T. R, Glover, to whose 
kindness^I am greatly indebted for many valuable suggestions 
in handling this varied and fascinating subject. 





PREFACE . . . . .IX 


II. OF MAN . . . . .II 


IV. OF ANIMALS * . . . - 44 

VI, OF BIRDS . . . . 75 

VII. OF FISHES , . . . .90 

VIII. OF INSECTS , . . . .106 






XIV, OF PAINTERS . . , * * J 93 








INDEX . 292 


Author and Translator 

ST. AUGUSTINE said of Varro, the first of the Roman encyclo- 
paedists no Romans were ever original scientists that he 
read so much that It was a marvel he ever had time to write 
anything, and wrote so much that it was difficult to see how 
he found time to read* If this was true of Varro it was a 
hundred times truer of Pliny, He was a man possessed with 
a mania for acquiring information, never satisfied and always 
looking for fresh avenues of knowledge. He ransacked the 
libraries for books on science, so many of which have been 
lost to us ? either burnt in the great fire of Alexandria or 
destroyed in the general destruction when the Empire fell 

Thus Pliny kept alive for us the ancient tradition which 
otherwise would have lacked the one supreme coherent ac- 
count. The importance of such a document during the 
Middle Ages was incalculable in view of the intimate associa- 
tion of science with philosophy existing amongst the Greeks 
particularly, and to a lesser degree amongst the Romans. 
Plato's knowledge of astronomy affected the nature of his 
loftiest speculations; and Aristotle, the greatest biologist of his 
age, treated science as a necessary part of a system which 
included ethics and politics with the study of natural phe- 
nomena. We therefore get at the mind of Rome in the first 
century by studying its so-called "natural history" that is, 
the interpretation then accepted of the forces of nature. 

Much of the science of the ancient world also was wrapped 
up in what we now call legend but which the ancients regarded 
as sober fact. The voyage of the Argonauts was to them not 
merely a story but a voyage that actually took place in the 

B i 


heart of Central Europe, necessitating the portaging of the 
good ship Argo by its crew over the Alps down to the harbour 
on the Adriatic where she regained the sea. Pliny even tells 
us the wood she was built of. Legend, science, literature, 
graphic and sculptured art, religion, all went to make one 
glorious whole, and no one more fully than Pliny has set forth 
the component parts of this vast assemblage of human know- 
ledge. His industry was like the rocks of loadstone that drew 
all good things to themselves, even the nails out of the ships 
that were passing by. 

Caius Plinius Secundus, known as the Elder Pliny in order 
to distinguish him from his nephew, the Younger, was born 
at Como of noble parentage in AJD. 23, 

During the fifty-six years of his lifetime many notable 
events happened, Jerusalem was taken and destroyed by his 
friend and comrade-in-arms, Vespasian, acting with his son 
Titus; London came into being as a Roman settlement; 
Agricola sailed for the first time round Britain; an ocean route 
with India was opened up through the Red Sea; and St. Peter 
and St. Paul, according to tradition, are said to have been 
martyred at Rome twelve years before Pliny's own tragic 

The details of Pliny's life are scanty but sufficient to indicate 
the strength of his intelligence and a passion for work which 
was carried almost beyond rational limits* In a letter which 
the Younger Pliny wrote to Baebius Macer lie gives ys u 
sketch of his distinguished relative that includes among lih 
personal reminiscences a short catalogue of the books he wrote. 
These embraced military instruction, the art of oratory, 
grammar and science, A work on Cavalry Javelin-Exercise 
occupied one volume and was written when he was in command 
of the allied cavalry in Germany. A Life ofPompowus SecunJus 
in two volumes was a testimony to a friend; and The 
Wars followed as a more ambitious historical work in twenty 
books. This was undertaken In response to a dream in which 
Drusus Nero ? a famous soldier who fought at his side 


the Germans, appealed to him for recognition. Other writings 
were on more literary subjects. Finally he completed the 
Natural History in thirty-seven books, his great scientific 
work which alone remains., a work which his dutiful nephew 
fitly described as C of great compass and learning and no less 
varied than nature itself" a tribute which does it no more than 
justice. Altogether 102 "Books'* stand to Pliny's credit; and 
judging from the length of one single book of the Natural 
History his total output constitutes in itself a substantia/ 
library. This, too, by a man who had practised for a consider- 
able period with success at the Bar, had governed two pro- 
vinces, fought in many parts of Europe, had been the close 
adviser of emperors, and was at the time of his death an 
Admiral of the Fleet. A prodigious record for one man whose 
energy did not allow him to slacken his efforts in anything he 

The qualities which the Younger Pliny assigns to his uncle 
as contributing to this vast achievement were a piercing intel- 
lect, an incredible power of application and an extraordinary 
faculty of dispensing with sleep* He worked at night by 
candlelight to early hours in the morning and was up before 
daybreak to attend on the Emperor Vespasian who also was 
accustomed to work by night. On his return to his home he 
would partake of a light and digestible breakfast in the old- 
fashioned style and lie in the sun, if it were summer and fine 
weather, when a book would be read to him of which he would 
take extracts; for he used to say that no book was so bad but 
that it contained something at any rate of value* 

After his sun-bath he bathed in cold water, lunched and 
afterwards enjoyed a nap. Then his studies were resumed till 
dinner-time, when again a book was read aloud and commented 
upon* Such was the ordinary routine when at home. When he 
went abroad a secretary was kept busy at his side with books 
and tablets; and should it be winter, he was provided with 
gloves so that no time would be lost by frozen fingers* As a 
final tribute to his uncle's fanatical craze for never wasting a 
moment the writer records how he himself was once reproved 



for taking a walk, on the ground that the exercise represented 
so much time that might have been better employee! in study. 
It is little wonder then that from the tone of many of Ins 
other letters the nephew, although he too attained a high posi- 
tion at the Bar and in important offices in the State, reacted 
from this violent fit of industry. In fact, he confesses that in 
comparison with his uncle he ought to blush with shame as a 
sluggard and a trifler. 

The events leading to Pliny's death are given at sonic 
length in a letter to the historian, Tacitus, who had asked for 
an account. The Younger Pliny tells how his uncle's attention, 
while the fleet was lying at Misenum, was suddenly drawn to 
a cloud of unsual size and shape rising from Vesuvius which 
presaged the terrible eruption under which Pompeii and 
Herculaneum were ultimately doomed. The cloud appeared 
in shape like a pine tree with a stem branching out into a mans 
of towering foliage. The wind carried the upper part jd way, 
and earth and ashes then began to fall Pliny ordered his fast- 
sailing cutter to be got out in order to investigate the unusual 
occurrence; but at that moment a message was brought from 
a friend on shore asking for assistance. Upon this his four- 
ranked galleys were launched, and taking command he 
approached the shore., dictating notes all the while of the 
developments of the eruption that were taking plaee^ The sea 
was rising and hot ashes and pumice falling* So terrifying was 
the scene that the helmsman wished to turn back, buc Pliny cried 
to him "Fortune favours the brave" and bade him go on. 

Arrived on shore Pliny showed himself unmoved in the 
face of the general panic, consoled his friend, bidding him 
calm his fears, and asked to be conducted to his bath. After- 
wards he dined in apparently the best of good humour. Mean- 
while sheets of flame and tall columns of lire were blazing^ the 
effect greatly heightened by the darkness which was as great 
as if night had fallen. In spite of the terrors of those around 
him Pliny calmly went to sleep* his snoring^ so we are told, 
being plainly audible to those in attendance outside his door* 
The conditions soon became rapidly worse. The walls nodded 



under the repeated and tremendous shocks, swaying to and 
fro. The fall of ashes threatened to block up all the means of 

egress and people were covering their heads with pillows to 
protect themselves from the red-hot cinders* A move was 
decided upon to the shore where a huge and angry sea was 
running, and Pliny was induced to lie down on a rug which 
was spread on the ground. But the sulphurous fumes caught 
him by the throat. Two slave boys attempted to raise him to 
his feet, but in vain; he fell back struggling for breath, his 
gullet being "weak and narrow and frequently subject to 
wind." In the morning when light returned he was found 
whole and uninjured in the dress he wore, in appearance as if 
he had fallen asleep rather than lying dead. 

Such was the end of one of the greatest and most enthusi- 
astic workers in history, amidst the confusion of an event 
considered to be the most dramatic convulsion of nature that 
ever agitated the Western World. The Younger Pliny, then 
eighteen, and his mother narrowly escaped with their lives, 
Dio Cassras, writing more than a century later, spoke of the 
eruption as being accompanied by the sound of trumpets (as 
one would speak of a gale of wind blowing big guns) and 
described in vivid terms the profound Impression created 
throughout the whole of Italy by an upheaval which buried 
Pompeii and Hereulaneum, together with works of art which 
Pliny actually described, under an ocean of mud, earth and 
ashes borne down the mountain slopes by the incessant 
torrents of rain. 

Pliny tells us that in writing the thirty-seven books of the 
ffistoria Naturalis he consulted no less than 2,000 volumes 
written by 100 Greek and Roman authors. In his list are 
included such illustrious names as Homer (reckoned a scientific 
author of the highest order and called by Pliny a "prince of 
learning and father of antiquities*') Herodotus, Xenophon ? 
Thucydides, Euclid, Democritus (the originator of the Atomic 
Theory), Plato, Aristotle (the first evolutionist), Archimedes, 
Theophrastus (the "father of botany"), Dionysius, Ctesias, 



Varro, 1 Strabo ? Boethius, Anaximander ? and a host of others, 

many of whose works are now unknown. No more representa- 
tive list of authorities from the ancient libraries could very 
well have been selected. 

Unlike most old manuscripts that of Pliny was never lost 
during the darkest days of the Middle Ages. This was due 
largely to its popularity one might almost say its modern- 
ness in those distracted times. It was continually being 
copied, not always with the accuracy which would now be 
considered desirable from a strictly scholarly point of view, 
so that in this way the text became unusually corrupt. Monks 
and scribes freely interpolated readings of their own whenever 
their inclinations so prompted them. Also they paid little 
attention to the source of the original which was being copied, 
because a patron so long as he could acquire a copy for his 
library did not consider the absolute accuracy of the text a 
matter of vital importance. 

As an example of the licence that was customary, the 
copyist was sometimes tempted to add on his own account a 
word of thankfulness that his task was at last accomplished 
a pardonable sentiment but hardly a relevant comment. 

The book was first printed at Venice in 1469 and ran 
through forty-three editions a sumptuous volume, dignified 
with an imposing title-page and fine initial letters. Every 
possible care was taken over the editing, as it is known that 
Politian collated the text three times with the assistance of 
two manuscripts borrowed from St. Mark's at Florence and 
a third lent by King Ferdinand of Naples. 

^ * Varro came just within Pliny's orbit, as he died! at the advanced age of river 
eighty, four years after Pliny was born. The JRes mstkm and a book on rhetoric have 
alone survived of his works,* but he was also an authority on grammar, tt*utmomy 
and mathematics. In fact, he was the first really competent Roman encyclopaedia, 
and worked under the direct patronage of Julius Caesar. Hi* writings however 
were less representative of the ancient world than the Natural Jtlistoiy of Pliny 
because he was definitely prejudiced against Greek learning and sought under a 
mistaken patriotic motive to bring the Latin authors naow prominently w the fore 
than they dlserved. He, too, like everyone who wrote on medicine, was indef M ig- 
able m advocating the oddest cures for human complaints, the majority i>f them 
concerned with the recitation of charms and appropriate forms of ritual. Pliny 
quoted very freely from him, 



When It was translated into English in Elizabeth's reign ? 
translation was something of a novelty and Philemon Holland, 

on whom the task devolved, had already earned the title, be- 
stowed on him by Fuller, of the "Translator-general of his age." 

To the fact that translation was a somewhat unusual experi- 
ment may be attributed the fashion of not adhering too 
slavishly to the Latin text and also that happy and unrivalled 
knack characteristic of the Elizabethans of breathing their 
own spirit into their renderings so as to convey the impression 
that they were almost independent authors. At that time 
indeed to translate a classical author into "the vulgar tongue" 
was deeply resented by contemporary scholars. We see signs 
of this antagonism in the care with which Holland declares in 
his Preface that his aim is to bring to light such writings as 
lay dead and buried in darkness "to make old stuffs new and 
set a gloss and lustre on what is dim and dark; for surely it is 
antiquity that has given grace, vigour and strength to writings, 
even as age commends the most generous and best wines". 
He cherishes the hope that in the end he will be thanked for 
his pains by every party he addresses by the young students 
who are more than ready to get away from the obscure 
construction of Latin, and here he permits himself a delight- 
ful touch of irony by the great scholars **who would take 
a delight in conferring together and deciding where lie had 
The title-page describes the work as: 



Commonly called 

The Natural! Historic of 

C PKnius Secundus 

And the date is 1601-, thirteen years before another famous 
History of the World^ written by Sir Walter Raleigh* The, word 
"history", it may be observed, can be used in two senses. In 

the Latin sense it applies to a narration of events; but according 



to the Greek derivation (that in which Pliny uses it) it signifies 
a compendium of all forms of knowledge. 

Philemon Holland was eminently qualified for his stupen- 
dous labours; for he lived to over eighty, never needed to 
wear spectacles, and translated., in addition to the Pliny, the 
complete works of Suetonius, Livy, Plutarch and Xenophon 
this, too, in what might be termed his leisure moments, 
for by profession he was a physician. On this account he was 
particularly qualified to do full justice to a work which he 
honestly believed, from the medical point of view alone, 
would confer untold benefits on the health of rich and poor 

The style of the translation may be judged from its date. 
It appeared in the same year that HamUt was produced, about 
mid-way between the dates of the J3iskops* Bible in 1568 and 
the Authorised Version of 1611. It therefore enjoys a consider- 
able measure of that quality of rhythm and phrase which has 
been proved so well adapted to the rendering of ancient 
writings. The only modern version which has since appeared 
was published in the Bohn Library in 1855, by John Bostock 
and T. H. Riley; more literal and exact, no doubt, but lacking 
the sparkle and pleasant flavour of our greatest age of transla- 

Very fortunately the version of Philemon Holland succeeded 
in preserving the popular tone of the original. It may be con- 
ceded that a certain proportion of ancient science may be 
slightly whimsical; at the same time it will be found to be 
full of surprises. With the grave is mingled the gay. That is 
the reason why in his dedication to his friend^ the Emperor 
Vespasian, Pliny refers to "these treatises written to the 
capacity of the vulgar people^ for base commons,, rude hus- 
bandmen, and peasants of the country, and to gratify those 
who have not time or leisure but to study upon such points 
and nothing else.*' The study alone of herbal medicine was 
held to be of untold value in alleviating the ills of life; and 
apart from this practical interest, it was intended as an encyclo- 
paedia to include every subject under the sun with, wherever 



possible, a fund of anecdote to enliven the occasional dryness. 

Thus we find under convenient headings the stories of Cleo- 
patra and her pearls and poisons; Apelles and his pictures; 
Alexander and his horse Bucephalus; Cincinnatus and his 
plough; the short-sighted Nero and his emerald, his singing 
and his breathing exercises; and an excellent collection offish, 
bird and animal stories^ of which many have long since passed 
into common currency thanks to the industrious mediaeval 
revivalists. Amongst these we find the eagle making her young 
ones gaze full at the sun without blinking in order to prove 
their worth; the mother-bear licking her cubs into shape, as 
if she were modelling them, while young and pliable, like so 
much putty; of dolphins enthralled with the songs of sailors 
and carrying small boys on their backs to school; of elephants 
and nightingales conning their lessons by heart; and marvellous 
accounts of noble-hearted lions and huge forbidding serpents. 
In short, a gossiping fund of information with a story wherever 

Another historical interest of the Natural History has been 
to preserve for us a picture of the wonders of the world which 
seized and coloured the imaginations of Greeks and Romans* 
And then with regard to art treasures, Pliny is the first critic 
adequately to describe the pictures which the ancients painted, 
the statues they carved in marble, ivory and gold, the images 
they cast in bronze, and the vast monuments and buildings 
they erected in many a fair city 

"Proud and goodly kings had built her, long ago 

With her towers and tombs and statues all arow, 
With her fair and floral air and the love that lingers there, 
And the streets where the great men go/* 

Vast and diffuse though this great work may be, it contains 
more authentic history of the customs and thought of the old 
world than a host of modern reconstructions. We are addressed 
by an authentic eye-witness and a commentator who knew 
intimately the gossip of die Forum and the prevalent beliefs 
and superstitions of his time. We cannot fail to recognise the 



typically practical sense of the Roman people, who still 

retained the keenest appetite for the curious and miraculous. 
Above all, it stands for Pliny's credit and our enjoyment that 
his interest in the arts of mankind was as alive and searching 
as his love and knowledge of nature. 


Of Man 

IF Pliny was not able to follow out to the full the sage re- 
commendation of Dr. Johnson 

"Let observation, with extensive view, 
Survey mankind from China to Peru/* 

he was at all events just within touch of China, the land of 
the Seres, from which came the silk to deck the dames of 
Rome (much to the disapproval of stern moralists on the 
score of immodesty) and even to be worn by the more luxuri- 
ous soldiers beneath their armour in the extreme heat. It is 
true that Peru was unattainable; but the islands in mid- 
Atlantic are described with a fair amount of accuracy. 

In his survey of mankind., therefore, Pliny had plenty of 
scope for observation, particularly in observing what other 
authors had had to say before him. He was himself no great 
traveller for the sake of travelling, although he knew France, 
Germany and Spain at first hand in the course of his military 
and administrative duties* Egypt he had visited, and he was 
also probably well acquainted with other parts of the Medi- 
terranean seaboard. But further afield he derived his know- 
ledge from the pages of Herodotus, Strabo and other writers 
on geography and anthropology. 

The Stoic philosophy to which lie was attached led Pliny 
to form a cold, pessimistic and fatalistic view of man's destiny. 
So far indeed from man being a the beauty of the world and 
in apprehension like a god," in the orthodox Roman mind 
he belonged to a savage herd only redeemed by the arts, by 
means of which the benefits conferred by Nature were utilised 
and converted into blessings. In a sense Nature was to be 


regarded as "the art of God", and man the recipient of His 
mercies. The great drawback was that men were so notor- 
iously disrespectful to their great Mistress, tearing up the earth 
ruthlessly in the search for gold, marble, iron and other metals. 
Yet in spite of this somewhat cheerless philosophy man was 
felt by the Romans to be a highly interesting creature^ in 
some ways a disheartening puzzle but always presented with 
endless and exceptional opportunities. Cicero had recognised 
a godlike element in mortal man a daixnon, or genius which 
was something unexplainable in human consciousness. Pliny, 
however, preferred to dwell on the blank materialistic outlook, 
on a life of inherited pain, inevitable sickness and death, with 
little to hope for beyond the grave. His aim indeed was to 
discover, if possible, in Nature means of alleviating his un- 
happy lot, even to the extent of the benefit of being able to 
commit suicide by poison. Joie dc vivrc was no conspicuous 
feature of the Roman philosophy, as may be judged from the 
following passage, a lament that takes us back to the gloomy 
outlook of the ^Eschylean chorus: 

tc lt is hard to judge whether Nature in producing man lias played 
the part of a kind mother or a hard and cruel step-dame. For first 
and foremost, she has brought forth man naked and clothed him 
with the goods and riches of others. To all other creatures she 
has given sufficient to clad every one according to their kind; with 
shells, crusts, spines, hides, furs, bristles, hair, down, feathers, soles 
and fleeces of wool The trunks and stems of trees and plants she 
has defended with bark and rind, sometimes double, against the 
injuries of heat and cold. Man alone, poor wretch, she lias laid all 
naked on the bare earth, even on his birthday, to cry and wraule 
(squall) from the first hour he is born into this world. 

"Among so many living creatures there is none subject to shed 
tears and weep like him. Indeed no babe or infant is given to laugh 
before he is forty days old, and that is counted very early and with 
the soonest 

"Moreover, as soon as he has begun to enjoy die light of the 
sun he is immediately tied and bound fast and has no member at 
liberty; a thing that is not practised on the young whelps of any 
beast among us, however wild he may be* The child of man thus 



untowardly bom and who another day Is to rule and command 
all others, lo how he lies bound hand and foot, weeping and crying, 

and beginning his life with misery, as if he had to make amends 
to Nature for die one fault and trespass that he is born alive ! 
"O folly of all follies ever to think that we were sent into this 

world to live in pride and carry our heads high! How long is it 
ere we can walk alone? How long before we can prattle and speak, 
feed ourselves and chew our food strongly? "What a time the mould 
and crown of our heads continues to beat and pant before our brain 
is well settled ! All other creatures have a secret instinct of nature 
to know their own good: some are swift of foot, others rapid of 
flight; some are strong of limb, others can swim. Man alone knows 
nothing unless he is taught. He can neither speak, nor walk, nor 
.eat otherwise than he is trained to it; in short, he is good at nothing 

except to pule and cry* 

* "For this reason some have been of the opinion that it had been 
-better for a man never to have been born, or else speedily to die. 
^None but ourselves sorrow or wail, are given to excess and super- 
fluity in everything, and show the same in every member that we 

Jhave, Who but we are ambitious and vainglorious? Who but we 

s are covetous and greedy of gathering riches? None but we desire 

to live long and never to die, are superstitious, careful of our burial, 

yea, and what shall betide us when we are gone. Man's life is the 

miost frail of all others and he lives in the least security. No creature 

"lusts more after everything than he. None fears like him and is 

| more troubled and amazed in his fright; and if he is once set upon 

anger, none more raging and wood (mad) than he. The lions, fell 

/and savage as they are, fight not with one another. Serpents sting 

- not serpents, nor bite one another with their venomous teeth* Nay, 
.the monsters and huge fishes of the sea war not amongst themselves 

in their own kind. But believe me, Man at man's hand receives 
most harm and mischief- [i] 

"After men are buried there is a great diversity of opinion what 
becomes of their souls and ghosts, wandering some this way and 
others that. But it is generally held that in whatever estate they were 
before they were born, in the same they remain when they are dead; 
t for neither body nor soul have any more sense after death than 
before nativity. But this folly and vanity of men extends even to 
the future, and in the very moment of death flatters itself with 
fond imagination and dreams of I know not what life after this* 



Some attribute Immortality to the soul, others devise a certain 
transfiguration thereof. 

"Again there are those who suppose that the ghosts 1 sequestered 
from the body have sense, therefore they honour and worship them, 
making a god of him that is not so much as a man. As if indeed the 
mode of men's breathing differed from that of other living creatures ! 
There are to be found many other things in the world that live 
much longer than men, yet no one suggests in them the same 
immortality. But show me what is the substance of the soul by 
itself! What kind of matter is it apart from the body? Where lies 
the seat of her thoughts? How is her seeing or hearing or touch 
performed? Nay, how is she employed? But I would know where 
she has her abiding place after her departure from the body. What 

1 Did Pliny himself Believe in ghosts? The answer is not quite clear. I !is 
nephew, the "Younger", certainly did, as is shown in one of his jLetws where he 
tells of a fine house in Athens which was haunted. In the dead of night sounds uf 
iron striking on iron were heard, a distinct clanking of chains approaching from the 
distance. Then a spectre appeared, a squalid old man with a long beard! and bristly 
hair, with shackles on Ins legs and fetters on his wrists, which he was continually 

The house was abandoned and put up for sale. But a philosopher* Athenodorun 
by name, was interested in psychical research. On seeing the adverdsenncnt 

"His suspicions were aroused by the low figure, so he made enquiries and dis- 
covered the reason. This did not in the least discourage him- In fact, the pnwprct 
rather attracted him than otherwise and he rented it. ^ 

"As soon as it began to get dark, he ordered a sofa to be placed in the fnmt part 
of the house. Then he called for his notebooks, writing materials and a light. He 
sent his household to bed and gave his whole attention to what he was writing, deter- 
mined that his imagination should not play him tricks or picture 10 his mind the 
phantom which he had heard of. 

"At first the deep silence of the night reigned undisturbed. Presently he heard 
the shaking of irons and the clanking of chains. But he never lifted his eyes from 
his work or slackened his pen. He hardened his soul and Ms u> the ftotmd. 

The noise increased as it grew nearer. It seemed to be at the door* at last, imide 
the door. He looked round and saw the figure. It stood beckoning to him with iw 
finger, as if inviting him to follow, 

"In reply Athenodorus made a sign that it should wait a moment, and again 
applied himself to his tablets and pen. Upon this the figure kept on rattling its 
chains over his head as he wrote. He looked up and saw making tlic 
as before. So he took a light and followed, 

**The ghost moved with a slow step* as though weighed down by its cliaiiw, 
turned into the courtyard of the house and then vanished. The philosopher, sud- 
denly finding himself done, marked the spot carefully with and !tmv<f. 
Next day he made an application to the magistrates to lave Ac up, lltere 
they found a quantity of bones lying, mixed up with fetters. The bocty to which 
they had been fastened had rotted away and left them rusted to the chain*, 

"Finally the remains were collected and buried by the authorities. From that 
day to this the house was freed from the spirit which was decently buried." 



an infinite multitude of souls like shadows would there be in so 

many ages, past as well as to come! 

"These are but fantastical, foolish and childish toys, devised by 
men who would fain live always and never make an end. There is 
the same foolery in preserving the bodies of dead men; and the 
vanity of Democritus is no less, who promised a resurrection and 
yet himself could never rise again. What a folly to think that death 
should be the way to a second life! What repose and rest could 
ever men have that are bom of a woman if their souls should remain 
in heaven above with sense, while their shadows tarried beneath 
in the infernal regions ! Surely these sweet inducements and pleasing 
persuasions mar the benefit of the best gift of Nature, Death*" [2] 

It is important to note however that Pliny's philosophical 
convictions did not altogether fit with his personal feelings 
and experiences. Life to him was far from being the fleeting 
insignificant thing he described if we are to judge from the 
value he placed on time. Indeed, he enjoyed and valued time 
in a way that differed conspicuously from a doctrine of general 
futility. This he proved by using it to the last second, instead 
of trying to kill it. Indolence meant a state of misery, 
industry a state of happiness; otherwise he would scarcely have 
pursued his labours so earnestly. Nor were fame and im- 
mortality, as demonstrated in the good opinion of posterity, 
things empty of meaning to him. In his actions there was no 
sign of "weakness or instability; in the last danger of all he was 
the most cheerful person present. So in voicing the Stoic 
view of life, he must not necessarily be regarded altogether 
as the unmitigated pessimist he would have us believe him 
to be* 

If he took a gloomy view of things as a matter of philosophic 
principle and inherited conviction he had no admiration for a 
crabbed attitude of mind in others. Crassus, he says, was 
never known to laugh in all his life: Socrates was never merry 
nor was he ever solemn: Diogenes the Cynic was so austere 
that he finally came to hate all mankind and thus cultivated a 
corrupt, perverse and froward nature. These "pillars of 
philosophy", as he called them, were by no means his ideal 



of the perfect man. Cato, rather, In his estimation was the 

pattern of Roman character, the highest type of conservatism, 
unswerving in his devotion to duty and the inveterate enemy 
of all foreign innovation. 

In his broad survey of man Pliny leaves no side free from 
detailed examination. He sees him from every angleas 
mentally constituted ("memory is the greatest thing of all"), 
and physically from such points of view as his powers of 
endurance (the ancient world was keenly interested in athletic 
records), his stature, longevity and various peculiarities. The 
discovery of the fossil remains of some prehistoric monsters 
revealed by an earthquake in Crete misled him as well as 
others into thinking that the human race was on the down- 
grade in point of size. Yet Pliny could vouch for a man in 
his own time, Gabara by name, who attained to the height of 
nine feet nine inches: and he adds that there were in the time 
of Augustus two others, Pusie (little John) and Secundilla, 
half a foot higher, whose bodies were kept as a public show 
in a sepulchre in the gardens of the Salustil At the opposite 
end of the scale we read of a dwarf "two feet and a palm in 
height", a mighty favourite with Julia, the granddaughter of 

Statistics about longevity never lose their interest* Hesiocl 
estimated the life of the crow at nine times the average of 
human life; of the stag at four times that of the crow; and the 
raven, the longest lived of all, at three times that of the stag. 
The phoenix lived for 660 years, and some men (generally 
kings) were assigned exceptionally long terms of years in 
their lifetimes, varying from 150 to 3oo. 

Here Pliny, it is true, makes allowances for different 
methods of reckoning. Some nations made the summer one 
year and the winter another; each of the four seasons were 
sometimes taken as a full year; and the Egyptians calculated 
years by the moon's phases. In this way it might have been 
possible for unusually favoured individuals to have lived for 
a thousand years and upwards. 

Another favourite topic of the old writers concerned 



instances of abnormal births. LIvy mentions cases of a lamb 
with a sow's head, a pig with a man's, and a foal with five 
feet* He mentions, too, that hermaphrodites were thrown 
into the sea. In the strange story, recounted below, of a 
woman being delivered of an elephant, the suggestion has 
been made that some malformation of the nose of the child 
was the basis of the story. It will also be seen that there was 
little necessity for the State in Italy to encourage large families. 

"That women may bring forth three at one birth is well known, 
as in the example of the Horatii and Curiatii. But to go above that 
number is commonly spoken to be monstrous and to portend some 

mishap. Of late years, no longer since the latter end of the reign of 
Augustus Ca*sar, at Ostia there was a woman (a Commoner's 
wife) delivered at one birth of two boys and as many girls: but 
this was a prodigious token and no doubt portended the famine 
that ensued soon after- In Peloponnesus one woman brought 
forth at four births twenty children, five at once, and the greater 
part of them all did well and lived. Trogus is my authority that 
in Egypt it is an ordinary thing for a woman to have seven at a 
burden. Pompey the Great, in the Theatre which he adorned and 
beautified with singular ornaments of antique work, represented 
one Eutiche, a woman of Tralles, whose corpse was carried to the 
funeral fire to be burnt by twenty of her children, after she had 
in her lifetime borne thirty births. As for Alcippe she was delivered 
of an Elephant; marie that was a monstrous and prodigious token 
and foreshadowed some heavy fortune that followed after, 

**In short, many misshapen monsters of diverse and sundry 
forms have come this way into the world. Claudius Caesar writes 
that in Thessaly there was born a monster called an Hippocentaur, 
that is half a man and half a horse; but it died the very same day. 
In fact, after Claudius came to wear the diadem we ourselves saw 
the like monster, sent to him out of Egypt, embalmed and preserved 
in honey. 

"The Emperor Augustus among other singularities that he had 
during his life, saw before his death the birth of M. Silanus, the 
grandson of his grand-daughter; that is to say, his progeny to the 
fourth degree of lineal descent. Q* Metellus Macedonicus leaving six 
children left eleven grandsons also, with daughters-in-law and sons- 
in-law twenty-seven in all of all such as called him father. In the 

C 17 


Chronciles of Augustus Cxsar we find It recorded that C Crispinus 
Belarus, a gentleman of Faesulae, came with a solemn pomp to 
the Capitol, attended upon by his nine children (seven sons and 
two daughters) with seven-and-twenty grandsons, the sons of 
his children, and nine-and-twenty great-grandsons more, once 
removed, who were his son's grandsons, and twelve granddaughters 
besides that were his children's daughters, and with all these he 
solemnly sacrificed." uJ 

Several curious instances are given of change of sex.^ Pliny 
professes to have himself seen fn Africa a citizen of Tisdrita 
who "turned from a woman to be a man upon the very 
marriage day and lived at the time I wrote this book". Another 
"person" was reported at Argos who had been called Arescusa 
and was a married wife, and afterwards grew a beard and 
"thereupon wedded a wife". 

Here are some references to likenesses in families, which 
show traces of the Mendelian Theory. 

"We observe that children often resemble their grandfathers 
and that in the case of twins one is sometimes like the father, the 
other like the mother; and then again a boy born a year later has 
been as like his elder brother as if he had actually been one of the 
twins. There are some women that bring all their children like 
themselves, and others again like their husbands: and same like 
neither the one nor the other* You will find women bring all their 
daughters like their fathers, and, contrariwise, their sons like the 
mothers. One example is remarkable, and yet undoubtedly true, 
of one Nicaeus, a famous wrestler of Constantinople, whose mother 
was begotten in adultery by an Ethiopian and yet had a white 
skin in no way different from other women of that country. He 
himself was black and resembled his grandfather,,, the Ethiopian 
aforesaid. Certainly the cogitations and discourses of the mind 
make much for these resemblances, and also accidental circum- 
stances are thought to be very strong and effectual, whether they 
come by sight, hearing, memory or imaginations apprehended on 
the instant of conception. The wandering and quick spirit of the 
father or mother, flying to and fro all of a sudden, is supposed to 
be one cause of this impression, making for either uniform likeness 
or confusion and variety. And so it is, and no marvel, that 1111*11 
are more unlike one another than other creatures; for the nimble 



motions of the spirit., the quick thoughts, the agility of the mind, 
the variety of discourse in our wits, imprint diverse forms; whereas 
the imaginative faculty of other living creatures is immoveable 
and the same in every one, which causes them always to engender 
like to themselves, each one in their several kind." [4] 

Long-distance running was a sport which showed how 
great was the appeal to the imagination of the original Mara- 
thon. Phidippides ran from Athens to Lacedaemon, 1140 

stadia, in two days; and a footman, taking a message to 
Alexander the Great, covered the 1200 stadia between Sicyon 
and Otis in one day, (A stadium was reckoned as 600 Greek 

feet.) "At this day", Pliny says, "are some in the great circus 
able to endure in one day the running of 160 miles, and but a 
short while ago a young boy only nine years 9 old between 
noon and evening ran 75 miles/* Nero with three chariots, 
riding post haste to his brother Drusus, then lying sick in 
Germany, covered 200 miles in a day and a night the distance 
form London to York. 

Here are feats of strength which are more credible: 

"Varro in his treatise of extraordinary strength speaks of one 
Tritanus, a man little of body and lean, but of incomparable 
strength, much renowned in the fencing school and in handling 
the Samnite weapons (armour of gladiators). He also makes 
mention of a son of his, a soldier that served under Pompey the 
Great, who had all over his body and through his arms and hands 
a network of sinews running across and across. When an enemy 
out of the camp challenged him to a combat he would neither put 
on defensive harness nor arm his right hand with offensive weapons, 
but with naked hand managed to overcome him and in the end 
when he had caught hold of him brought him into his own camp 
with one finger. Junius Valeras, a centurion of the Guard was 
accustomed to hold up a chariot laden with casks of wine until 
the wine was drawn out Also he could with one hand hold a coach 
against all the force of the horses striving and straining to drag it 
forward. He performed other wonderful masteries which are to 
be seen graven on his tomb. Varro says he was called Hercules 
Rusticellus (a bumpkin Hercules) for taking up his mule on his 
back and carrying him away. As for Milo, the great wrestler of 



Croton, when he stood firm on his feet no man could make him 
stir one foot; if he had a pomegranate fast within his hand no one 
was able to stretch a finger of his and force it out straight/" [5] 

Some remarkable instances of long vision are given. One 
man was reputed to be able to see a distance of 135 miles. 
During the Carthaginian "War he used to stand and watch on 
a cape in Sicily to see the enemy fleet come out of the haven 
of Carthage, What is more, he could tell with accuracy the 
number of the ships. 

Microscopic sight also was not uncommon,, to judge from 
the fact that the whole of the Iliad was once written on a piece 
of parchment that could be enclosed in a nutshell. 1 Can that 
have been the origin of the phrase? Whether people were able 
to read such a condensed manuscript is not stated. 

And there was Pyrmecides who in the same manner wrought 
a chariot with four wheels and as many steeds in so little room 
that "a silly fly could cover it all with her wings". Also he 
made a ship with all the tackling to it, no bigger than a little 
bee might hide with her wings. 

Memory was accounted the greatest of all the gifts of 
Nature, and the most necessary for the purposes of this life, 
King Cyrus could call every soldier in his army by name, 
and L. Scipio could do the same by all the citizens of Rome. 
Mithridates was so accomplished a linguist that he adminis- 
tered justice to the twenty-two nations under his rule without 
the assistance of an interpreter and could address them elo- 
quently in their own languages. Verbal memory, too, reached 
a point that Macaulay might well have envied, Chamiidas, a 
Greek, could deliver by heart the contents, word for word, 
of all the books a man could call for out of any library, just 
as though he was reading them. It was actually said that the 
art of memory had been taught so successfully that a man 
could repeat the words of any discourse after having once 
heard it. This is more than any modern memory system 
could ever claim. 

1 Pope was nicknamed "Homer in a nutshell" from the little chariot in which lie 
used to travel up to London, 



"And yet there is nothing in man so frail and brittle, whether 
it be occasioned by disease, casual injuries or by fear, and through 
these causes it fails sometimes in part, at other times it decays 
generally and is clean lost One with the stroke of a stone forgot 
his letters and could read no more. Another falling from the roof 
of a very high house lost the remembrance of his own mother 
and kinsfolk: and Messala Corvinus, the great Orator, forgot his 
own proper name. So fickle and slippery is man's memory that 
often it attempts to make its escape from us, even while a man's 
body is otherwise quiet and in health. But let sleep creep upon 
us at any time, it seems to be vanquished; so that our poor spirit 
wanders up and down to seek where it is and to recover it again/* [6] 

One of the fundamental questions, then as now, was the 
problem of fortune and happiness. Pliny's view was that the 
Romans were admittedly the most valorous of all the nations 
under the sun; but it was another matter to determine who as 
an individual had been the happiest man in all the world, 
considering that felicity is to be found now in one thing, now 
in another. Everyone, he says, measured happiness according 
to his fancy and affection; the only reasonable conclusion, to 
be drawn was that there is no such thing as real happiness to 
be looked for either in this world or the next* Even the "red- 
letter days" (as we call them) marked in old days by white 
stones, were more than offset by the black Fridays. 

As to life after death the Stoic theory was that spirit was 
an ultra-gaseous form of matter. The soul, or life, could be 
pictured rising from the steam of the sacrifice and passing into 
the body of the spirit which pervades the universe. The soul 
therefore was material in its nature, and in that belief it was 
natural to assume that no pleasure or satisfaction was to be 
experienced by a man who had once lived and had now 
ceased to continue his material existence. Resignation seemed 
to PHny to be the primary virtue, 1 and fear the deadliest enemy 

1 Another sidelight on the Stoic counsel of perfection and happiness is thrown by 
the Younger Pliny "in a letter, which compares with a remark made by Pascal, that 

he could not imagine a practising Christian ever being in perfectly good health. 
Whether Pliny the" Elder shared the views expressed by his nephew may be doubtful, 
but as a moralist he would probably have agreed. "The illness of a certain friend 
lately reminded me that we are best while we are sick. For what sick man Is tempted 



to human felicity. Shakespeare, too, speaks of fear as "of all 
base passions the most accursed." 

"Fortune has indeed dealt well with us if we may not justly be 
called unhappy; for even if there is no actual misery and calamity, 
a man is always in fear lest Fortune will frown upon him and do 
him a shrewd turn one time or another. Let this fear be once 
admitted and there can be no sound happiness and contentment in 
the mind. 

"Then, too, is it not the case that there is not a man who is at 
all times wise and in his perfect wits? Would God that this were 
taken of most men for a poet's word only and not a true said saw 
indeed! But such is the vanity and folly of poor mortal men that 
they flatter themselves and are very witty to deceive themselves, 
making their reckonings of good and evil fortune, like the Thracians 
by casting certain white and black stones into an urn to signify 
the proof of each day's fortune. At the time of their death, they 
separate these stones and according to the number of the black and 
white give judgment of each man's fortune. But does it not often 
fall out that the day marked with a white stone for a good day had 
in it the beginning of some great misfortune and calamity? 

"How many men have seemed to fall into fortune's lap and 
entered on great empires and dominions, which in the end turned 
to their afflictions and miseries? How many have we seen over- 
thrown, punished extremely and brought to utter ruin even by 
their good parts and commendable gifts? Those are truly gowl 
things and great favours if a man can enjoy them for but one hour 
with contentment The case in the ordinary course of the world 
stands thus: one day is the judge of another, and the day of death 
judges and determines all, therefore we can put our trust in none 
of them. Foolish and sottish men that we are with all we should 
ponder and peise them by weight 

"It doubles the pain of a man that is to die if he has to think and 
consider what will betide him in the time to come. For if it is 

m _ng that he is about to part with them. , , > . 

no one; not even to malicious gossip will he pay attention. I fa proposes to himself 
an easy and comfortable existence for the future that is, a harmless and happy oius 
if he has the luck to escape. What philosophers strive to teach with a multitude at* 
words, and even in a multitude of volumes, I can condense in a ofirasie: In ju&hh we 
should continue to be such as, in sickness, we promise we sbill oe in the future." 



sweet and pleasant to live, what pleasure can a man have that has 
once lived and now does not? How much more ease and greater 
security it were for each of us to put his trust in himself an<i to 
ground his resolution and assurance upon returning to the experi- 
ence that he had before he was born." [7] 

With Pliny's words on happiness it is of interest to compare 
the point of view which Seneca^ another Stoic, takes. It was 
not resignation in which he believed so much as an exaltation 

of spirit, rising to a higher level of thought than the mere 
material enjoyment of life, and finding consolation in the 
contemplation of Nature and her works. This was "a greater 
and fairer realm placed by nature beyond human sight . . . 
and for myself", he adds, "I am grateful to nature, not so 
much when I see her on the side that is open to the world 
as when I am permitted to enter her shrine**. It was thus a 
sacred duty to find out if possible of what stuff the universe 
was made. Life would be a useless gift if it was not man's 
privilege to be admitted to the study of the most lofty themes. 
"How despicable a creature is man", he exclaims, < unless he 
rises above the earth! The pursuit of wisdom and knowledge 
is the greatest endeavour of which he is capable. It takes him 
away from the heat and sweat and dust of life, from the fear 
of death and the averting of sickness and disease", 

Then in a fine passage Seneca expresses his disdain of the 
common run of mankind in the striving for empty mastery, 
and likens the world to a vast ant-heap: 1 

"The full consummation of human felicity is attained when, 
all vice trampled under foot, the soul seeks the heights and reaches 
the inner recesses of nature. What joy then to roam through the 
very stars, to look down with derision on the gilded halls of the 
ricli and the whole earth with its store of gold! Gold, did I say? 
Yes, all the gold the earth ever produced and sent into currency, 
and all that she keeps hidden in secret to glut the avarice of posterity. 
Only when one has surveyed the whole universe can one truly 

1 Two famous parallels are Isaiah's reference to mankind as a race of grasshoppers, 
and (Hosier's words in King JLsar^^ 

"As flics to wanton boys, are we to the gods, 
They kill us for their sport." 


despise grand colonnades, ceilings glittering with ivory, ^tri 
groves and cooling streams transported into wealthy mansions. 
From above, one can now look down upon this narrow world, 
covered for the most part by sea, an ugly waste either parched or 
frozen. The philosopher says to himself: Is this the plot that so 
many tribes portion out by fire and sword? How ludicrous are 
their frontiers! The Dacian must not pass the lower Danube; the 
Strymon must shut off the Thracians; the Euphrates must be the 
barrier of the Parthians; the Danube must form the boundary 
between Sarmatian and Roman; the Rhine must set ajimit to 
Germany; the Pyrenees must raise their chain between Gallic and 
Spanish provinces; between Egypt and Ethiopia a desert of barren 
sands must stretch! Why, if ants are ever endowed with human 
intelligence, will not they in like manner portion out a threshing- 
floor into many provinces?" 

The passage seems to strike a familiar note. The reference 
to the threshing-floor points to a familiar symbol Its circular 
shape when the com was trodden out by oxen or mules in 
endless rotation obviously suggests the universe, with the 
sun, moon and stars carried round from day to day. But 
another interpretation of the floor is even more relevant when 
the corn is beaten out with sticks, as appears in Habakkuk, 
where God is spoken of as marching through the land in 
indignation and threshing the heathen in anger -a figure of 
speech not at all inapplicable to modern times. 


Of the Body and Physic 

FROM man In the mass to man as an individual, made up of 
arms, legs, head and the rest, is but a step. By splitting him 
up^into his component parts it was considered possible to 

assign to each the particular duty imposed by Nature to assist 
in the working of the complete machine. Thus we find, in the 
investigations to discover the source of life, particular emphasis 
laid on heart, brain, liver and blood- Of these the heart, 
according to Pliny, was the seat of the mind and soul, of 
courage and the finer forms of vitality. The same idea is 
expressed in the Bible "He is valiant whose heart is as the 
heart of a lion**. So real and persistent was this belief that 
as late as the Crusades the heart of Robert Bruce, according 
to his own instructions, was cut out of his body when he was 
dead, in order to be buried in Palestine. Douglas wore It 
round his^ neck in a silver casket when he rode against the 
Moors in Spain, but unfortunately he was killed and the scheme 

The softer emotions so frequently attributed to the heart 
and so suitably pictured on St. Valentine's Day, were not 
centred in this organ by the ancients. "What authority", said 
Charles Lamb, who was a judge of symbolism, "we have in 
history or mythology for placing the headquarters and 
metropolis of God Cupid in this anatomical seat rather than 
in any other, is not very clear/' Certainly the sentimental 
association did not date from pagan days, 

The heart was held to be the source of heat, which in its 
turn was the cause of life. It was continually moving and 
panting, as if it were a separate animal It had to be defended, 
as^ if it were a kind of fortress or castle, by "a strong mure 
of ribs and the breast bone/' 



Descending to particulars, creatures that had^a hard and 
stiff heart were supposed to be brutish. That is a familiar 
idea. But it is strange to find that creatures having hearts 
excessive in proportion to their size (such as mice^ hares, 
asses, deer and hyenas) were the most timorous; while the 
valiant always had small hearts in their bodies. More than 

"It is reported of some men that they have Hearts all hairy and 
these are held to be exceeding strong and valorous; such was 
Aristomenes the Messenian who slew with his own hand 300 
Lacedaemonians (in three sundry battles). Being sore wounded and 
taken prisoner he saved his life once and made an escape out of 
the cave of a stone quarry where he was kept as in a prison, for he 
gat forth by narrow Fox holes under the ground. Being caught 
a second time, while his keepers were fast asleep, he rolled himself 
to the fire, bound as he was, and so without regard of his own 
body burnt in sunder the bonds wherewith he was tied. At the 
third taking the Lacedaemonians caused his breast to be cut and 
opened, because they would see what kind of Heart he had; and 
there they found it all overgrown with hair." [8] 

The absence of the heart in the sacrifices on one occasion 
presented a difficult problem: 

"It was under L. Posthumius Albinus, the King saerificer at 
Rome, that the Soothsayers and Wizards began first to look into 
the Heart, among other inwards. The very day that Caesar Dictator 
went first abroad in his royal purple robe and took his seat in the 
golden chair of state, he killed two beasts for sacrifice and in both 
of them the entrails were found without any Heart; whereupon 
arose a great question and controversy among the Augurs and 
Soothsayers how it could be that any beast ordained for sacrifice 
should live without that principal part of life or whether it had 
lost it at the very moment of its death.'* [9] 

The question at issue was whether some supernatural agency 
was at work to account for the omission. 

Blood struck Pliny most forcibly on account of its emotional 
changes of colour. He considered it a marvel that its force 
and strength should vary for every little motion and passion 



of the mind ? such as shame ? anger and fear. At one moment 
it could be pale, at another red always in different shades 
according to the state of feeling. In fear "it retires and flies 
back, so that a man does not know what has become of it". 
This change of colour only took place in, man. Change of 
hue in animals was due to other causes: "they take an outward 
colour from the reflection of certain places near them* 5 . The 
chameleon was a great puzzle for turning, as it did, into "such 
variety of colours". The instinct of the creature for camou- 
flage was noted, but the full explanation was not forthcoming. 
It was understood that creatures which had blood had brains 
also. Pliny followed Aristotle in describing the brain as the 
moistest and coldest part in the whole body. Keeping a cool 
head meant that the brain was functioning properly in keeping 
the head cool Aristotle also held that the heart was the organ 
of the soul and of the intelligence; but Pliny placed the higher 
functions in the skull It may be added that he assigned more 
brains to men than to wome% both in bulk, so one gathers, 
and in quality. 1 

**Of all parts necessary for life it is placed highest and next to 
the cope of both head and heaven. In truth it is die fort and castle 
of all the senses; all the veins from the heart tend unto it. It is the 

very highest keep, watch-tower and sentinel of the mind. It is 
the helm and rudder of intelligence and understanding. Moreover, 
in all creatures it lies forward in the front of the head; and good 
reason, because all our senses bend that way just before our faces. 
From our brain comes sleep; from thence proceeds our naps, our 
nods, our reeling and staggering. And look, whatever creature is 
lacking in brains, the same cannot sleep." [10] 

The liver possessed the property of distributing the blood, 
and to it was attached the gall When black choler lay in the 
liver it caused fury and madness, so that furious and raging 

* The ancients took a great interest in the thickness and hardness of skulls. Bears 
were supposed to have the softest; parrots the hardest Herodotus mentions that 
when he visited a battlefield, where Persians and Egyptians had fought, that the 

Persian skulls were exceedingly brittle; he could break them easily with a pebble* 
The Egyptian skulls, on the other hand, resisted a violent blow, the reason being, 
as he considered, that the Egyptian skulls were shaved regularly from early child- 
hood and that the heat of the sun was thus able to bake them all the harder. 



persons were, and still are, said to be "choleric" or full of 
gall If it was dispersed over the whole body, then It produced 
the yellow jaundice which " colours the very eyes ? as it were 
with saffron." 

The idea and material evidence of blood, in one form or 
another, lay at the root of all the ancient religions.^ The old 
rituals positively reeked with blood. The extent of the sacri- 
fices of human beings and living creatures revealed In history 
is overwhelming, and its appeal proceeded from the inherited 
belief that blood was the one great material and vital element. 

Thus the Liver, being the source of blood, was the most 
significant part of the anatomy In the sacrifices* As a mode ot 
divination the inspection of the liver in sacrificed animals 
came originally from the East. It was common in ancient 
Sumeria, was extensively practised In Asia Minor, and later 
adopted with enthusiasm in Italy as a portent of remarkable 
certainty. "Whenever an Emperor was about to die the liver 
was sure to be missing or else distorted In some curious fashion. 
On the other hand, Its multiplication or duplication was 
considered a favourable omen. Augustus on entering upon 
his imperial dignity found In all six of the beasts killed six 
livers redoubled and folded inwards a certain sign that he 
would double his power and authority. 

The associations of other parts of the body were, on the 
whole, of less importance. The knees contained "a certain 
religious reverence" which, as Pliny rightly remarks,, has been 
generally observed throughout the world. Then "to raise 
the back part of the hand to the lips and put It forth (a pleasing 
variation of the Fascist salute) was to give a testimony of faith 
and fidelity." In Greece it was a gesture of reverence to touch 
the chin in the act of supplicating some great personage. 
In giving witness it was customary to toucli the tender lappet 
of the ear where the seat of memory was supposed to be. 1 

1 It is told of Alexander the Great, by Plutarch, that when he first had to try 
upon capital charges he would "lay his hand upon one of his cars while the accuser 
spoke, to keep it free and unprejudiced in behalf of the party accused". Later on 
he had such a number of accusations brought before him that hti did not take the 
same care and dropped the habit. 



Now it is generally the forehead which is touched in the act of 
any strenuous mental effort. 

The skin was not without its significance. Pliny was 
inclined to dispute the popular belief that a thick skin resisted 
"the entrance of subtle air and fine spirit into the body". 
This belief we have inherited and attribute to thick-skinned 
people an attitude impervious to the finer shades- Pliny did 
not entirely agree with this opinion; and no doubt he had 
justification in his conclusion. 

"People point out that those men who are thick-skinned and 
more brawny are more gross of sense and understanding. As if 
indeed Crocodiles were not very witty and industrious, and yet 
their skin is hard enough! As for the River-horse, his hide is so 
thick that javelins and spears are turned from it; and yet so indus- 
trious is that beast that in some cases he is his own Physician and 
has taught us how to open a vein and let blood. The Elephant's 
skin is so tough and hard that targets and shields are made thereof, 
of such good proof that it is impossible to pierce them through; 
and yet they are thought of all four-footed beasts to be most 
ingenious and witty. Wherefore we may conclude that the skin 
itself is senseless and has no fellowship at all with the understand- 
ing, and especially that of the head/* [i i] 

The ears were the most vainglorious and costly parts of the 
body because of "our dames and their precious stones and 
pendant pearls". In the East men also thought it a great 
grace and bravery to wear earrings of gold. The forehead and 
eyebrows were the strongest indicators of emotion; they 
expressed sorrow and heaviness, mirth and joy, clemency and 
mildness, cruelty and severity* Pride and arrogance, too, had 
their seat in the brows: u ln the whole body it can find no part 
more eminent and haughty and more steep than the brows in 
which to rule and reign without controlment". 

Eyes are very varied in their appearance and functions: 

"Some men have great glaring eyes; others again have them 
little and pinking* Some are goggle-eyed as if they would start 
out of their heads, and these are supposed to be dim-sighted; others 
are hollow-eyed, and they are thought to have the best and clearest 



sight, as is the case also with those which resemble in colour the 
eyes of the Goat. Blue eyes commonly see the clearer in the dark. 
It is reported of Tiberius Caesar that if he was wakened in the 
night, he could see everything for a while as well as in the clear 
day; but soon after, by little and little, the darkness would overcast 
everything again a gift that no one in the world was ever known 
to have but himself. Augustus Csesar of famous memory had reel 
eyes like some horses; and indeed he was wall-eyed, for the white 
of it was much bigger than in other men. If a man looked earnestly 
upon him and beheld them wistly (intently) he would be displeased 
and highly offended. A man could not anger him worse, Claudius 
Csesar had a fleshly substance about the corners of his eyes that 
took up a good part of the white and many times they were very 
red and bloodshot. Nero had a very short sight; unless he winked 
(as it were) and looked narrow with his eyes he could not see 
anything well, however near. Caligula the Emperor had twenty 
couple of professed sword players in his fence school and of all 
these only two could not be made to wink or once twinkle with 
their eyes, and therefore they always carried the prize and were 
invincible. Many men cannot choose but be evermore winking, 
but such are holden for fearful and timorous persons. 

"Eyes are the very seat and habitation of the mind and affection- 
From them proceed the tears of compassion. "When we kiss the 
eye we think that we touch the very heart and soul From hence 
comes our weeping; from hence gush out those streams of water 
that drench and run down the cheeks. But what might this water 
and humour be, that in hearts' grief issues in such plenty and is so 
ready to flow? Where may it lie at other times when we are in joy, 
in mirth, and repose? It cannot be denied that with the Soul we 
imagine, with the Mind we see, and the Eyes as vessels and instru- 
ments receiving from it that visual power and faculty send it soon 
after abroad. Hence it is that a deep and intentive cogitation blinds 
a man so that he sees nothing; namely when the sight is retired far 
inward. Thus it is that in the Epilepsy or Falling-sickness the eyes 
are open and yet see nothing: for why? The mind within is dark- 

"We that are citizens of Rome have a sacred and solemn manner 
in use among us, to close the Eyes of those that are giving up the 
ghost; and when they are brought to the funeral fire to open them 
again. The reason of this ceremonious custom is that as it is not 



meet for the Eyes of a dead man to be seen by the living, so it is 
an equal offence t6 hide them from heaven, unto which this honour 
is due and the body now presented. 

"Men and women have hair growing on the brims of both Eye- 
lids. The women colour them every day with an ordinary painting 
that they have; so curious are our dames and would so fain be fair 
and beautiful that, forsooth, they must dye their eyes also. Nature 
gave them these hairy eyelids for another end, namely, for a 
palisade, as it were, and rampier of defence for the sight, to stand 
out like a bulwark to keep off all little creatures that might come 
against the eye, or whatsoever things should chance to fall into 
them/* [12] 

Lastly, two other points may be taken the voice and the 
pulse. An infant begins to prattle and talk when it is a year 
old and not before. It could be taken as a general rule that the 
children which began with their tongues too early were always 
late in finding their feet. Every man and woman had an indi- 
vidually distinct voice just as they had a separate face a fact 
that accounted for the many varieties of languages, "In the 
same way 9 *, Pliny concludes, "as the Voice is the utterance of 
our mind and distinguishes us from brute and wild beasts, so 
the differences of speech among men are as wide as the differ- 
ence between, man and beast." 

The pulse, or "beating of the Arteries**, was a phenomenon 
of which Herophilus made a special study, treating its action 
as a science in itself. He set down the exact beats and rhythms 
appropriate for people of every age, and noted when they were 
too fast or too slow. "The observation of the strokes, either 
coming thick and fast, or slow and softly, gives a great light 
to judge of the strength of Nature that governs our life," The 
art of Heropliilus has in this respect remained the most 
permanent feature in all medical practice. 

Trogus seems to have been the great authority on physi- 
ognomy. Aristotle also made some general remarks about the 
significance of certain signs, which Pliny dutifully repeats: 

"It was once thought good in Egypt to nourish and keep a 
monstrous man who had four eyes, of which two stood in the 



back part of his head behind; but surely he never saw at all with 
them. I wonder verily that Aristotle not only believed ^but set 
down in writing that there were certain signs in a man's body 
whereby we might foreknow whether he would live long or no. 
Which, although I take them to be but vanities (because I would 
not have men amused and busily occupied in searching for Prog- 
nostications in themselves, as touching their own life) yet I will 
touch on the same and deliver it in some sort, since so great a clerk 
as Aristotle held them for Resolutions and thought them worth 
the penning. He put down therefore as signs of short life thin 
teeth, long fingers, and leaden hue, many lines in the palm of the 
hand with cross bars or short cuts. On the other hand those who 
are Lute-backed, thick shouldered and bending forward, who 
also have two long life-lines in the hand, and more than two-and- 
thirty teeth in their head, and besides are well hanged and have 
large ears, are long lived. And as far as I can guess he did not 
require that all these figures should concur and meet together; 
but, as I suppose, his meaning is that every one of them by itself 
is significative and sufficient. 

"Trogus, a most grave and renowned Author among us, is of 
opinion, moreover, that judgment can be given not only of men's 
complexions, but also of their conditions by their very 'counten- 
ance; and surely I think it not amiss to set down his very words. 
A large and broad forehead (says he) is a token of a dull conceit 
and heavy understanding; and contrariwise they that have a small 
forehead are by nature fickle and inconstant. Finally a round fore- 
head, bearing out, argues anger and choler, as if betraying the 
swelling and boiling of that humour. Where the eyebrows are 
straight and lie evenly, they betoken soft and effeminate persons; 
but if they bend and bow towards the nose they show austerity. 
If their turning and bending is toward the temples of the head, 
they are signs of a mocker and a scorner Finally, where they lie 
very low such persons (be ye sure) are malicious, spiteful and 
envious. Long eyes testify hurtful and dangerous persons. They 
that have the corners full of flesh are of a malicious nature; where 
the white of the eye is spread large and broad, it is a token of 
impudence. Such as are always winking and closing their eyelids 
(trust me truly) they are giddy-headed and unsteady. Those that 
have great ears, especially the laps thereof, make account that they 
are blabs of their tongue and fools withalL Thus much of Physiog- 
nomy according to Trogus." [13] 



The ritual of sacrifice went far to familiarise people with the 
organs of the body and suggested various ideas as to the manner 
in which imperfect bodies might be restored to a normal 
condition of health. Such an enquiry led Pliny into a variety 
of scientific channels and more particularly into herbal medi- 
cine. Plenty of vegetables and salads was Pliny's stock pre- 
scription for good health. Lettuce and cucumber, fresh cabbage 
(crambe Ms cocta^ a warning against a stale dish or topic), 
radishes eaten with salt before breakfast, parsnips, onions 
greatly venerated by the Egyptians, leeks used by Nero to 
clear his throat for singing, 1 asparagus (velodus quam asparagi 
coquanturj a proverb suggesting speed) these were all excel- 
lent and wholesome correctives. "Nature ordained at the first 
such things to be the remedies of our diseases which we feeH 
and live daily upon; even those which are soon found and as 
soon prepared, which are ready at hand, common everywhere, 
and cost us little or nothing at all." 

In that case why, Pliny asks, is the knowledge of simples 
and the cures they can effect not more widely known? His 
answer is that the better classes are ignorant on the subject and 
that it is the peasants who are most conversant with such 
remedies, living as they do where the herbs grow. Another 
reason is carelessness and a disinclination to take the trouble 
to look for them; and a still stronger reason is that "every 
place swarms so with Leeches and Physicians, and men are so 
ready to run after them to receive some compound medicine 
from them". 

**But the most shameful cause why so few simples in comparison 
are known is the naughty nature and peevish disposition of those 
persons who will not teach others their skill, as if they were afraid 
of losing for ever what they imparted to their neighbour. Added 
to all this that there is no certain way to direct us to the knowledge 
of herbs and their virtues: for if we consider the herbs which are 

1 Nero, in practising singing, used to wear a pla,te of lead on his breast, "under 
which he would chant out lustily with a wide throat and strong voice his filthy 
sonnets and beastly ballads; but he showed thereby that lead was a singular means 

to maintain a good voice**. The lead was obviously worn to assist as a breathing 


D 33 


found already we are for some of them beholden to mere accident, 
and for others (to say the truth) to the immediate revelation from 

"As a proof of this I will relate to you one instance. For many 
years the biting of a mad dog was counted incurable and those 
who were so bitten fell into a certain dread and fear of water. 
Neither could they abide to drink or to hear it mentioned; and 
then they were thought to be in a desperate case. It happened 
of late that a soldier, one of the guard about the Pretorium, was 
bitten with a mad dog, and his mother saw a vision in her sleep, 
giving (as it were) direction to her to send to her son for him to 
drink an extract of it, the root of an Eglantine or wild Rose (called 
Cymorrhodon) which she had seen the day before growing in a 
Hortyard and which she much admired. This occurrence took 
place in Lusitania, the nearest part of Spain to us. Now, as God 
would, when the soldier upon his hurt received by the dog, was 
ready to fall into the symptom of Hydrophobia and began to fear 
water, a letter came from his mother, advertising him to obey 
the will of God and to do what was revealed to her by the vision. 
Upon this he drank the root of the said sweet briar or Eglantine 
and not only recovered beyond everybody's expectation, but also 
as many as were in a similar case took the like receipt and found 
the same remedy." 

There was, however, an alternative remedy namely, to 
bite off the puppy's tail at the nethermost joint when it is just 
forty days old. The tail, Pliny says, will not grow any more 
and the dog will never go mad. Does this belief account for 
the fashion of docking the tails of some of our modern breeds? 

Cato had a rooted objection to anything Greek, and not 
the least of his antipathies was to the Greek physician. He 
wrote a letter of warning to a friend saying that these foreign- 
ers had sworn to one another to murder all barbarians (all 
nations, that is, except themselves) with their physic. More 
than that, they said, adding insult to injury, that they would 
take money for doing so, and this would assist them greatly 
in dispatching other folk with even greater facility. He 
resented, too, the fact that the Greeks called his countrymen 
opici (country bumpkins). Being eighty-five when he wrote 



this, and in the best of health, Cato had every reason for urging 
that "simples" out of the garden satisfied every need of physic. 

* 'There is this mischief besides that there is no law or statute 
to punish the ignorance of blind Physicians though a man lost his 
life by them, nor has a man ever had revenge or recompense for 
misusage under their hands. They learn their skill by endangering 
our lives, and they do not mind killing us to make experiments of 
their medicines. In a word, the Physician is the only person who 
can murder a man and get clear away with impunity. But say that 
one is so bold as to charge them with untoward dealing, they 
immediately cry out on the poor patients and find fault with them 
for their unruliness, distemperature, wistfulness and I know not 
what; and thus the silly fools that are dead and gone are shent and 
bear the blame. 

"Surely we are well enough served and may thank none but 
ourselves so long as none of us cares to know what is good for his 
life and health. We love to walk with other men's feet. We read; 
we look by the eyes of others; in the very main point of all we 
commit our bodies and lives to the care and industry of others. 
I do not mean to waste reproof on the base, abject and ignorant 
sort of Physicians; how little order they observe in the cure of 
diseases, or in the use of hot baths; how imperiously they prescribe 
most strict diet to their patients and when they are ready to faint 
and die under their hands for want of sustenance how they are 
forced to cram them, as it were, and give them meat upon meat, 
often before they have digested the former viands: how they do 
and undo, altering the treatment a thousand ways, making a 
mish-mash and mingle-mangle of victuals beside a deal of mixtures 
and compositions of drugs and ointments. I myself have seen 
those that go for Physicians put frequently in their medicines 
Minium (red lead), which is no better than rank poison, instead of 
Lidian Cinnabar, and all because they make an error in the proper 
signification of words. 

"Some practices, harmless as they seem to be, have been the over- 
throw of all virtue and good manners in our Roman State; such as 
the things we do when we are quite well, grease and anoint our- 
selves, which is a preparation for wrestling. And what should I 
say of their dry stoves, hot houses and ardent baths which these 
Physicians advise to be so good for digestion of food in their 
stomachs? Yet I could never see any coming forth on his own 



feet but he was heavier and found himself feebler than before he 
went in. And as for those who have been more observant of their 
rules than the rest, I have known many carried out for dead, or 
else extremely sick: to say nothing of the potions to be taken in a 
morning fasting, and the pitch-plasters devised to pluck away 
the hair from where Nature has ordained it to grow. In short, we 
may conclude that considering the enormities and corruptions 
which have crept into our life by means of physic, Cato was a true 
prophet when he said that it was sufficient to look cursorily into 
the writings and witty devices of the Greeks without learning them 
thoroughly. Thus much I have thought worth speaking^ of in 
justification of the people of Rome that they continued not without 
great reason six hundred years without the entertainment of 
Physicians, and against that Art which of all others is most danger- 
ous and fullest of deceit, in that it has blinded the eyes of good 
men in the foolish opinion that nothing is good for the health of 
man except that which is costly and precious. I shall not therefore 
insert the rare receipts reported to be made of the ashes of the 
bird Phoenix and her nest; for I know it to be merely fabulous, 
however great a pretence of truth it might seem to carry." [i 5] 

This passage at any rate shows that Pliny was not so credu- 
lous after all. 

The trouble of which he is speaking had started with the 
wise men of the East and their arts and devices. King Mithri- 
dates had introduced into Rome many of the arts of magic, 
which embraced obscure branches of medicine. One of his 
prescriptions, found by Pompey in a private cabinet after his 
defeat, was warranted to ensure a man against the effects of 
poison. The ingredients were two dried walnuts, two figs, 
and twenty leaves of rue pounded together (with the addition, 
one reads with a start of surprise, of "a grain of salt") to be 
taken fasting. 

The walnut was an important component of the mixture 
as it came under the Doctrine of Signatures; the principle, 
that is, of the resemblance of the nut to the convolutions of 
the brain by which was clearly indicated a specific for mental 
disturbances. Other instances of the doctrine can be found 
in the Viper's Bugloss, a specific for snake bite, from the spots 


on the stem and the seeds which resembled a viper's head; 
also in the St. John's Wort, a well-established remedy for heal- 
ing wounds, signified by the holes in the leaves and the flowers 
which, when dead, suggested drops of blood. 

Associations of the same kind with animals were equally 
common. The hare (owing to a play on words connecting it 
with grace and beauty) was believed, when eaten, to be a cure 
for sleeplessness and to bestow the gift of beauty; a reference, 
presumably, to beauty sleep* Various nauseous parts of ele- 
phants, lions, hyaenas, camels, crocodiles and chameleons were 
brought into the pharmacopoeia. As many as seven remedies 
were derived from the rhinoceros. The strangest of these 
remedies was the employment of the ashes derived from 
rhinoceros skin as a hair-restorer, all the more humorous 
because the beast itself was so little hirsute. 

The rhinoceros, it may be remarked, is still a "kill" of 
considerable value to the native hunter for its horn, which 
in the form of a powder is supposed to have alleviative pro- 
perties, and also for the blood and other constituents of the 

Obviously the mental factor entered, and still enters, largely 
into the success of these remedies. The more unpleasant they 
were, the more likely to be efficacious. The honey in which 
the bees had died was recommended for abscesses; a vulture's 
lungs for spitting blood; infants were given boiled mice with 
their food. Of some strange preparation of beetles, Pliny 
exclaims in high disgust; "Aiid yet by Hercules! Diodorus 
tells us that he has administered this remedy internally, with 
resin and honey, for jaundice and hardness of breathing; such 
unlimited power has the medical art to prescribe as a remedy 
whatever it thinks fit" When it comes to the magical property 
of the toe of a homed owl to be attached to the body as a cure 
for fever, he again bursts forth: "Who, pray, could ever have 
made such a discovery as this? And what, too, can be the 
meaning of the combination? Why, of all things in the world, 
was the toe of a horned owl made choice of?" Yet they say 
that Pliny was not critical 



To come to more normal remedies, the virtues of an excel- 
lent ointment for bruises is vouched for: 

"Thapsia is singularly good for the shedding and falling out of 
the hair; also against the black and blue marks remaining after 
stripes. Nero Csesar, the Emperor, in the beginning of his Empire 
conferred considerable celebrity on the plant. For using (as he 
did) to be a night-walker and to make many riots and much mis- 
rule in the dark, he would occasionally come across those who 
would beat him so hard that he carried away black and blue marks 
on his face. But (as he was subtle and desirous not to be talked 
about) he had an ointment made of Thapsia, Frankincense and 
Wax with which he anointed his face and by the morning came 
abroad with a clear skin and no marks to be seen, to the great 
astonishment of all who saw him." [16] 

Blackberries and raspberries, it is pleasant to find, were 
good as a lotion for bloodshot eyes and Saint Anthony's fire, 
or erisipelas. Taken inwardly, they were "very comfortable 
to a weak stomach". It is unusual to find in the ancient regime 
so gentle a treatment recommended. 

We now come to more definite forms of medical practice. 
Water cures were extremely popular. Just as the earth is 
beholden to water for her strength and virtue, so mankind 
also, it was held, can benefit from it. Cicero's house was 
converted into a hydropathic establishment. At Naples, too, 
there were medicinal springs of brimstone, alum, salt, nitre 
and bitumen and others partly sour and partly salt. 

"Some of them also serve as a stouph or hot house, for the 
steam and vapour arising from them is wholesome and profitable 
for our bodies; and so hot are they that they heat the baths and are 
able to make the cold water in our bathing tubs boil again. Some 
are so hot that by them you can seeth an egg or any other viand 
or cates for the table. Now to decipher their virtues in physic they 
generally serve for infirmities of the sinews, for gout of the feet 
and sciatica, for dislocations of joints and fractures of bones. 
Others have a property to loosen the belly, heal wounds and ulcers 
or accidents of the head and ears. Among the rest, those which 
bear the name of Cicero are sovereign for the eyes. These belong to 
a memorable manor or fair house of pleasure situated on the sea 



side in the highway leading from the lake Avernus to the city of 
Puteoli. It is much renowned for the grove or wood about it, 
as also for the stately galleries, porches, alleys and walking places 
adjoining which set out and beautify the place. This goodly house 
M. Cicero called Academia from a resemblance to a college of that 
name in Athens from which he took the model and pattern. There 
he compiled those books of his which carry the name of the place 
and are called Academicae quaestiones^ and there he caused his 
monument to be made as if he had not sufficiently immortalised 
his name throughout the world by the noble works he wrote and 
commended unto prosperity. Well, soon after Cicero's death, 
this house and forest fell into the hands of A. Vetus and then in 
the very forefront and entry of the place there were discovered 
certain hot fountains medicinable and wholesome for the eyes. 
I will set down part of an Epigram which is worthy to be read not 
only there, but everywhere. 

Of late also, fresh fountains here break forth out of the ground, 
Most wholesome for to bathe sore eyes, which erst were never found. 
These helpful springs, the Soil no doubt, presenting to our view, 
To Cicero her ancient lord, hath done this honour due; 
That since his books throughout the world are read by many a wight, 
More waters still may clear their eyes, and cure decaying sight." 

On the merits or otherwise of water for drinking purposes, 
the physicians agreed to differ. Rain-water was rather too 
light; they therefore preferred snow-water. Ice-water was 
more of a delicacy. Water from the earth was heaviest; but ? 
as Pliny justly remarks ? how can the sense and feeling of the 
stomach determine these things? Nero used to boil the water 
and then put it in a glass bottle surrounded with snow in order 
to draw any evil quality out of it. 

Salt was good for preserving food and for whetting the 
appetite. It was regarded as a necessary element for the main- 
tenance of life., for the mirth of the heart, for lightsomeness 
of mind, repose and contentment Hence various honours 
and dignities bestowed on brave men were called Salaries. 
Sacrifices and oblations to the gods were never performed 
without a cake of meal and salt. 



The amulets worn were often sufficiently disagreeable. 
They remind us of the contents of the shop of Mr. Venus, in 
Our Mutual Friend. 

'The dust or sand in which a hawk or bird of prey has basked 
or bathed herself is singularly good for the quartan ague if the 
patient wear it in a linen cloth tied with a red thread. Then, the 
longest tooth in the head of a coal-black dog is very proper for 
this purpose. There is a kind of bastard wasp which usually flies 
alone and not in troops as others do; this, if it is caught with the 
left hand and hung round the neck under the chin, cures quartans, 
as some magicians say. Others attribute this effect to the first wasp 
a man sees in the current year. 

"There are some who lap a caterpillar in a little piece of linen 
cloth and bind it with linen thread, making three knots and saying 
at the knitting of each knot that they do this to cure him or her 
of a Quartan fever. Others carry about them a naked snail or slug 
in a little piece of fine leather, or else four heads of snails cut off 
and enclosed in a small reed. Some of these Magicians direct to 
take four gadfly grubs enclosed in a Walnut shell and bind them 
to some part of the patient Others put a live spotted Lizard in 
some little casket or box and lay it under the pillow or bolster 
where the patient lays his head: but when the ague begins to go 
away they let the Lizard go free again/* [18] 

In order to become invisible the following ingredients were 
necessary the tail and head of a dragon, the hairs of a lion's 
forehead, the marrow of that animal, the foam of a horse that 
has won a race, and the claws of a dog's feet. These were to 
be tied up in a deer's skin and fastened alternately with the 
sinews of a deer and a gazelle. After such an experience, it is 
refreshingly simple to learn that cobwebs were known to be 
a good application to stop bleeding after shaving. 

The history of physicians, so Pliny tells us, began with 
^Esculapius, who restored Hippolytus to life and was struck 
dead with lightning by Jupiter for his presumption. He was 
followed by Hippocrates, who was answerable for the kind 
of Physic which was called "Clinic" (the meaning of the word 
being that he visited his patients in bed). His patients found 
this innovation so agreeable that they were prepared to pay 



large fees for the privilege of being attended by him. Later 
there arose a sect of physicians who called themselves Empirics, 
because they grounded their work entirely on experience. 

Herophilus then appeared on the stage. His contribution 
to the medical art was that he "reduced the pulses, or beating 
of the arteries, to times and measures in Music, according to 
the age of the patient." That was considered to be too mathe- 
matical and learned a method for general practice and soon 
dropped out to be revived later. 

The most successful physicians earned enormous incomes. 
Q. Stertinius complained of the emperors whom he served that 
he had no larger revenues than half a million sesterces a year. 
He and a brother spent huge sums on building fine houses, 
yet were able in the end to leave thirty millions to their heirs. 

Thessalus was a physician also of the richer sort, who made 
a great show when he passed with his train along the streets. 
Crinas of Massilia used astrology with much success and did 
not allow his patients to eat or drink except with punctilous 
regard to times and seasons. He bequeathed ten millions. 

"all of a sudden one M. Charmis, a Massilian likewise, entered the 
city of Rome and not only condemned the former proceedings of 
the ancient Physicians but put down the baths and hot houses. 
He brought in bathing in cold water and persuaded folk to use 
the same even in the middle of Winter. Nay, he feared not to 
give direction to his sick patients to sit in tubs of cold water. I 
assure you I have myself seen ancient Senators, such as had been 
Consuls of Rome, all chilling and quaking, yea and stark again 
for cold, in these kind of baths; and yet they would seem to endure 
the same to show how hardy they were. There is a Treatise extant 
by Seneca in which he highly approves of this course. Undoubtedly 
such Physicians as these who won credit and estimation by such 
novelties and strange devices, shoot at no other mark but to make 
merchandise and enrich themselves with the hazard of our lives. 
From this come these lamentable and woeful consultations of 
theirs about their patients, wherein you will see them argue and 
disagree in opinion, while one man cannot abide another man's 
judgment seeming to carry away the credit of the cure. Hence 



arose the Epitaph of him (whoever he was) that caused these words 
to be graven on his unhappy tomb, Turba medicorum peril, that is, 
The variance of a sort of Physicians about me was the cause of my 
death. Thus you see how often this art from time to time has been 
altered and how it is still daily turned like a garment new dressed 
and translated. For whenever one of these newcomers can vaunt 
his own cunning with brave words, straightway we put ourselves 
in his hands and give him power to dispose of our life and death at 
his pleasure, and without further regard are as obedient to him as a 
soldier to his captain and general of the field. A strange matter 
that we should do so considering how many thousands of nations 
there are that live in health well enough without these Physicians, 
although not altogether without medicine. Such, for instance, was 
the Roman people who continued for six hundred years after the 
foundation of their city without knowing what a Physician meant. 
But afterwards they took a great fancy to Physic also, although 
upon some little experience of it they were as ready to loathe and 
condemn it as they had been desirous before to have a taste and 
trial of it." 

It is not difficult to see that Asclepiades was greatly appreci- 
ated in an age when physicians tended to bully their patients 
and make them suffer unnecessarily. He favoured simpler and 
pleasanter measures and was the first to adopt the policy of 
finding out what his patients wanted and insisting on their 
having it. 

"He laid down that there were only five principal remedies 
which served for all diseases in common; to wit, in Diet, Abstinence 
in meat, Forbearing wine, Rubbing of the body and the Exercise 
of riding on horseback or in a carriage. He so far prevailed with 
his eloquence that everybody gave ear and applauded his words, 
because they were ready enough to believe those things to be 
true which were easiest, and because they saw it was in everybody's 
power to perform what he recommended. So by this new doctrine 
of his he drew all the world into a singular admiration of him as 
of a man descended from heaven to cure their griefs and remedies. 
In addition to this he had a wonderful dexterity to follow men's 
humours and content their appetites by promising and allowing 
the sick to drink wine, also in giving them cold water when he 
saw the opportune moment, and all to gratify his Patients. And 



just as Cleophantes had the reputation among the ancients for 
bringing wine into favour and setting out its virtues, so Asclepiades, 
desirous to grow into credit and reputation by some new invention 
of his own, brought up the allowing of cold water to sick persons: 
and (as M. Varro reports) took pleasure in being called the Cold- 
water Physician. 

"He had besides other pretty devices to flatter and please his 
Patients. At one time he would cause them to have hanging litters 
or beds like cradles so that by moving and rocking to and fro he 
might either send them to sleep or ease the pains of their sickness. 
At other times he ordered the use of baths, a thing he knew folk 
were most desirous of; and there were besides many other fine 
conceits very plausible in hearing and agreeable to man's nature. 

* e One thing we Romans may well be ashamed of, that such an 
old fellow as he, coming out of Greece (the vainest nation under 
the sun) and beginning as he did from nothing, should (only to 
enrich himself) lead the whole world on a string and all of a sudden 
set down rules and orders for the health of mankind laws, be it 
remembered, which have been as it were repealed and annulled 
by many that came after him. And indeed Asclepiades had many 
helps which favoured his opinion and new Physic, namely, the 
manner of curing dieases in those days which were exceedingly 
rude, troublesome and painful. For instance, there was much ado 
in lapping and covering the sick with a deal of clothes, and causing 
them to sweat by every possible means. Such a work, too, they 
made sometimes in chafing and frying their bodies against a good 
fire; or else in bringing them abroad into the hot sun which could 
hardly be found within such a shady and close city as Rome. 
Instead of that, not only at Rome but throughout all Italy, he 
followed men's humours in approving the artificial baths and 
vaulted stoves and hot-houses which then were newly used exces- 
sively in every place by his approbation. Moreover, he found 
means to alter the painful curing of some maladies, such as the 
quinsy, in the healing of which other Physicians before him went 
to work with a certain instrument which they thrust down into 
the throat He condemned also (and worthily) that dog-physic 
which was so general in those days that if a man ailed ever so little 
he must by and by cast and vomit. He blamed also the use of 
purgative potions as contrary and offensive to the stomach; in 
which matter he had great reason and truth on his side." [20] 


Of Animals 

THE Eighth Book of the Natural History contains "the natures 
of land beasts that go on foot", which may be taken as the 
ancient rather than the modern definition of animals. A list 
of twenty Latin authors (including Virgil) is given; and forty- 
five " foreign writers" mainly Greek, with four Kings amongst 
the number Juba, Attains, Philometer, and Archelaus 
showing how the scientific interest extended to all classes. In this 
book alone " the principal matters^ stories and observations 
worth the remembrance" amount to 788, of which only the 
briefest selection can be given. 

Of all the authors mentioned the name of Aristotle stands 
pre-eminent. He lived from 384 to 322 B.C. and was the first 
naturalist to systematise his knowledge; in fact, he was the 
first evolutionist. 1 He made a scala natum^ or "ladder of 

1 Amongst the Romans, Seneca, a contemporary of Pliny, twenty years his 
senior, stands alone as an original thinker on the problems of nature. He, too, in 
his Qucestiones Naturales, recognised to a surprising extent the principle of evolution 
in its universe, as will be seen from the following passage: "Whether the world is 
a soul, or a body under the government of nature, like trees and crops, it embraces 
in the constitution all that it is destined to experience actively or passively from its 
beginning right on to its end. It resembles a human being, all whose capacities are 
wrapped up in the embryo before birth. Before the child has seen die light of day 
the principle of beard and grey hairs is innate. Although small and hidden, all the 
features of the whole body and of every succeeding period of life arc there hidden. 
In like manner the creation of the world embraces sun and moon, stars with their 
successive phases, and the birth of all sentient life. All elements will aid nature to 
ensure that nature's decrees may be executed". 

One of the Decrees of Nature to which he looked forward was a general con- 
flagration of the universe, when the elements of the earth would all be dissolved 
in heat or utterly destroyed, so that the new creation might be able to usher in an age 
<Jf innocence when a better race of men would inhabit the globe, and prosperity 
and peace would reign. This idea was destined to have a definitely religious signifi- 
cance on later ages and probably was a factor in the mistaken view taken that Seneca 
was himself a Christian, whereas both he and Pliny were Stoics, believing in a God 
whom they identified with Nature an omnipotent and all-wise creator, 



nature'*, which Ingeniously registered a progression in nature 
from plants and sponges through crustaceans, reptiles-, insects, 
birds and fishes up to mammals and finally to man. Man was 
alone credited with reasoning power and the possession of 
thoughts capable of influencing his actions and movements. 
The basis of life in his theory was some powerful and vitalis- 
ing principle, a conception opposed to the mechanist theory 
which gained such wide favour in the last century. 

Pliny accepted the general implication of Aristotle's scheme, 
without perhaps appreciating to the full its scientific signifi- 
cance. His motive was merely to render a version of science 
intelligible to the common reader. He therefore attacked the 
problem from the simple utilitarian point of view of insisting 
upon the belief that everything in nature has its own particular 
use and that it is man's business to discover it. Bees, for 
example, were charged with the obligation to supply honey; a 
view cordially endorsed by Mr. Harold Skimpole. Locusts, 
in spite of their destructive habits, were eaten as good food in 
Parthia, a delicacy fit for a king and served at the royal table. 
In India, where so many marvels abounded, it was reported 
that their bodies were large enough to be used for saws when 
properly dried. By the same process of reasoning silkworms 
were created to supply silk for the ladies of Rome; and the 
mission of sheep was obviously to provide wool for clothes, 
tapestries and carpets. 

The importance to the world of Alexander's conquests had 
been incalculable. Natural history would have lost half its 
interest without the information often fallacious, but none 
the less stimulating to the imagination gleaned from India 
and the East, Such questions were mooted as the connection 
between the waters infested by the crocodiles in the Indus and 
the Nile. Did it mean that the rivers had a common source? 
In the state of knowledge at the time the world was full of 
untold possibilities and men were thirsting for the latest 
marvels that might be forthcoming. Aristotle himself had 
been Alexander's tutor; no doubt he had fired his boyish 
enthusiasm for collecting every kind of information about 



living things. When he grew up, so Pliny tells us, Alexander 
commanded thousands of men hunters, falconers, fowlers 
and fishers, foresters, park-keepers and warreners, the keepers 
of herds of cattle, fish-pools, bees and poultry throughout Asia 
and Greece to keep Aristotle informed of every creature known 
in the world. From this material were compiled nearly fifty 
books of De Animalibus the great text-book from which 
Pliny so freely borrowed. 

The classification of animals was at first tentative. Many 
reptiles were included, amongst them lizards, frogs, snakes, 
and particularly the crocodile. 

Although improperly ranked among the animals (yet within 
the definition of a "land beast that goes on foot") the crocodile 
deserves attention because it excited such a remarkable interest. 
In the Book of Job it is one of the wonders of creation recorded 
in the speech of the Almighty; and in Egypt it was worshipped. 
Pliny's description is particularly vivid: "a venomous creature, 
four-footed, as dangerous upon water as the land. This beast 
alone, of all other that keep the land, hath no use of a tongue/* 
This absence of a tongue increased the reverence of the 
Egyptians as a noble quality typifying the eternal silence. 
"He only moves the upper jaw or mandible, wherewith he 
bites hard; and he is otherwise terrible because of the course 
and rank of his teeth which close one within another, as if two 
combs grew together." Pliny also borrows from Herodotus to 
the effect that the eggs are the size of those of geese and that 
the male and female sit on them in turn. Their skin is hard 
enough, he says, reverting to an old argument, "and yet who 
would deny that crocodiles were very witty?" He also gives 
the full story of the sandpiper which feeds on the leeches in the 
crocodile's mouth. But he adds a less authenticated tale of the 
rat which seizes a favourable moment for a decisive onslaught. 

"When he has filled his belly with fishes he lies to sleep on the 
sands. And since he is a great and greedy devourer, some of his 
meat sticks between his teeth. In regard whereof a little bird, 
called Trochilos, comes and for her victual's sake hops first about 
his mouth, falls to pecking and picking it with her little neb or 


bill, and so forward to the teeth which she cleans. And to make 
him gape she gets within his mouth, which he opens the wider, 
because he takes such delight in her scraping and scouring of his 
teeth and jaws. Now when he is lulled, as it were, fast asleep with 
his pleasure and contentment the rat of India, or Ichneumon, spies 
his vantage and seeing him He thus broad gaping, whips into his 
mouth and shoots himself down his throat as quick as an arrow 
and then gnaws his bowels, eating a hole through his belly and so 
killing him." 1 [21] 

Another thick-skinned creature of greater dimensions and 
also of unimpeachable sagacity was the elephant, reckoned to 
be second only to man in point of intelligence: 

"Elephants understand the language of the country in which 
they are bred; they do what they are commanded; they remember 
the duties they are taught and take a pleasure and delight both in 
love and glory. More than this, they embrace goodness, honesty, 
prudence and equity (rare qualities, I may tell you, to be found in 
men) and hold in religious reverence the stars, planets, sun and 
moon. Indeed writers say of them, that when the new moon 
begins to appear fresh and bright, they come down in herds to a 
river named Amelus, in the deserts and forests of Mauritania, where 
after they are washed and solemnly purified by sprinkling and 
dashing themselves all over with the water, and have saluted and 
adored after their manner that planet, they return again into the 
woods and chases, carrying before them their young calves that 
are weary and tired* Moreover they are thought to have a sense 
of religion in others; for when they are to pass the seas into another 
country, they will not embark except under an oath of their 
governors and rulers that they shall return again. And some of 
them have been seen, being enfeebled by sickness (for big as they 
are they are subject to grievous maladies), to lie on their backs, 
casting and flinging herbs up to heaven, as if deputing the earth to 
pray for them. 

1 The confusion with regard to the reptiles among the ancients is illustrated by 
Mandeville when he mentions serpents, dragons and crocodiles all together. "These 
cockodrills be serpents, yellow (hence the derivation of the name from the crocus 
plant) and rayed above, and have four feet and short thighs, and great nails as claws 
or talons. And there be some that have five fathoms in length, and some of six and 
of eight And when they go by places that be gravelly, it seemeth as though men 
had drawn a great tree through the gravelly place." 



"The first time harnessed Elephants were seen at Rome was in 
the time of Pompey the Great, after he had subdued Africa, for 
then two of them were put in gears to his triumphant chariot. 
Coupled as they were, two in one yoke, they were not able to go 
in at the gates of Rome. 1 At the exhibition of gladiators which 
Germanicus Cassar gave to gratify the people, the Elephants were 
seen to leap and keep a stir, as if they danced after a rude and 
disorderly manner. It was a common thing to see them fling weapons 
and darts in the air so strongly that the winds had no power against 
them; also to meet together in fight like sword-fencers and to make 
good sport in a kind of Pyrrhic dance; afterwards to walk on ropes 
and cords and carry (Four together) one of them laid at ease in a 
litter. Last of all, some of them were so nimble and well practised 
that they would enter a hall or dining place where the tables were 
set full of guests, and pass among them so gently and daintily, 
weighing their feet, at it were, in their going, so that they should 
not hurt nor touch any of the company as they were drinking. 

"It is known for certain that once on a time an Elephant, who 
was not so good at his lessons to learn what was taught him, was 
beaten and beaten again for that blockish and dull head of his and 
was found studying and conning during the night the feats which 
he had been learning in the daytime. One of the strangest things 
is that they can not only walk up the tight-rope backwards, but 
can slide down again with their heads forward, Mutianus, a man 
who had been Consul three times, informs us that one of these 
animals had learned to make the Greek characters and would write 
down in that language: This I have written and made an offering 
of the Celtic spoils'. He also says he himself saw at Puteoli a ship 
discharged of Elephants; but when they were to be set ashore and 
forced to leave the vessel, for which purpose a bridge was made 
for them, they were frightened at the length of it, and so to deceive 
themselves that the way might not seem so long, they went back- 
wards with their tails to the bank and their heads toward the sea. 

"They know that their only riches (for love of which men lay 
in wait for them) lie in the arms and weapons which Nature has 
given them. King Juba calls them their horns; but Herodotus, 
who wrote long before him, has much better termed them Teeth. 

1 Plutarch says that Pompey, when Sylla opposed his having a triumph, was 
determined to have his triumphant chariot drawn by four elephants, 'having brought 
over several which belonged to the African kings**. But the gates of the city proved 
to be too narrow so he had to be content with horses. 


Therefore, when they are shed and fallen off, either from age or 
some calamity, the Elephants hide them in the ground. This, 
indeed, is the only ivory, for all the rest covered within the flesh 
is of no price and is taken for no better than bone. And yet of late 
from the great scarcity of the right teeth men have been glad to 
cut and saw their bones into plate and make ivory of them. 

"We hardly get teeth of any bigness unless we have them out 
of India: for all the rest that might be got in this part of the world 
between us and them have been employed in superfluities only and 
served for wanton toys. You can tell young Elephants by the 
whiteness of their teeth and they have a special care and regard 
for them. They look to it the point of one of them is always sharp, 
and they therefore forbear to use it lest it should be blunt against 
the time when they come to fight. The other tooth they use 
ordinarily, either to get roots out of the earth or to cast down any 
banks or mures that stand in their way. When they happen to be 
surrounded by hunters they set in the front rank those of the herd 
that have the least teeth, to the end that their price might not be 
thought worth the hazard and venture in chase of them. But 
afterwards, when they see the hunters eager and themselves over- 
matched and weary, they break them by running against the hard 
trees and in leaving them behind escape by this ransom, as it were, 
out of their hands. 

"Elephants always march in troops. The eldest of them leads 
the vanguard, like a captain, and the next in age comes behind 
with the conduct of the rearguard. When they are to pass over a 
river they put foremost the smallest of the company for fear that 
if the bigger should enter first they would by treading in the 
channel make the water rise and swell and so cause the ford to 
become deeper. Antipater writes that King Antiochus had two 
Elephants which he used in his wars and called them by famous 
surnames which they knew well enough when they were called by 

"And Cato in his Annals gives the names of the principal captain 
Elephants and has left it on record that the elephant which fought 
most lustily in the Punic war was called Sums, by the token that 
one of his teeth was gone. When Antiochus once on a time was 
sounding the ford of a river by sending the Elephants first, "Ajax' 7 
who always lead the way, refused to take the water. Upon which 
the king pronounced with a loud voice that the Elephant which 

E 49 


passed to the other side should be the captain and chief. Then 
Tatroclus' gave the venture and for his labour was given a rich 
harness and was all trapped in silver (a thing wherein they take most 
delight) and was made besides the sovereign of all the rest But the 
other who was thus disgraced and had lost his place, would never eat 
anymore, and died for very shame of such a reproachful ignominy. 

"Only the tamed sort serve in the wars and carry little castles 
or turrets with armed soldiers to enter the squadrons and battalions 
of the enemy. For the most part all the service in the wars of the 
East is performed by them and they especially determine the end 
of the quarrel For they break the ranks, bear down the armed 
men that are in the way and stamp them under foot. These terrible 
beasts (outrageous otherwise as they seem) are frightened by the 
least grunting of a hog, and if they are wounded at any time or 
put into a fight they always fall back and do as much mischief to 
their own side that way as to their enemies. The African Elephants 
are afraid of the Indians and dare not look at them, for in truth 
the Indian Elephants are far bigger. 

'There is a famous combat told of a Roman with an Elephant 
at the time when Hannibal forced the captives he had taken of 
our men to fight each other to the death. The only Roman that 
remained unslain in that unnatural conflict he must needs match 
with an Elephant and see the combat himself, assuring him upon 
his word that if he killed the beast he should be sent home with 
life and liberty. So this prisoner entered into single fight with the 
Elephant and to the great heart's grief of the Carthaginians slew 
him outright. Hannibal then sent him away according to his 
promise; but on considering the consequence of this matter, that 
if this combat was bruited abroad by him the beasts would be less 
regarded and their service in the wars not esteemed, he sent certain 
light horsemen after him to cut his throat and so make him sure 
for telling tales. 

"In the second consulship of Cn. Pompeius, at the dedication 
of the temple to Venus Victrix, twenty elephants or, as some say, 
seventeen fought in the great show place. In this solemnity the 
Gaetulians were set to launch darts and javelins against them. One 
Elephant did wonders, for when his legs and feet were shot and 
stuck full of darts he crept upon his knees and never stopped till he 
got among the companies of the Gaetulians, where he tore from 
them their targets and bucklers, flung them aloft in the air, and as 



they fell they turned round and round as if they had been trundled 
by art and not hurled with violence by an angry beast. This made 
a goodly fight and did great pleasure to the beholders. 

"Once the Elephants got among the people, notwithstanding 
that they were outside the lists which were set round with iron 
gates and bars. (For this reason Cassar the Dictator, when he was 
to exhibit a show before the people cast a ditch round the place, 
letting in the water and so made a moat of it, which prince Nero 
afterwards stopped up in order to make more room for the Knights 
and men of arms.) But those Elephants of Pompey, being past 
all hope of escaping, seemed to make moan to the multitude, 
craving mercy and pity with grievous plaints and lamentations; 
so much so that the people's hearts turned again at this piteous 
sight, and with tears in their eyes for very compassion they all 
rose up from beholding this pageant, without regard of the person 
of Pompey, that great General and Commander, without respect 
of his magnificence and stately show by which he thought to have 
won great applause and honour at their hands, but instead of that 
fell to cursing him and wishing all those plagues and misfortunes 
to light upon his head which soon after ensued accordingly. 

"Moreover, Caesar in his third Consulship exhibited another 
fight and brought twenty Elephants to skirmish against 500 
footmen; and a second time he set out twenty more, with wooden 
turrets on their backs, containing sixty defendants apiece, opposing 
to them 500 footmen and as many horse." [22] 

In the Punic wars the elephant was a prominent figure. 
To embark 140 of these unwieldly creatures in the vessels 
then in use, as the Carthaginians managed to do, and to tran- 
sport them safely in a voyage of over 100 miles was a marvel 
only to be emulated later on by the Romans who shipped 
lions, tigers and leopards across the sea for the entertainment 
of the populace at the games. 

Herodotus, Aristotle and Pliny all agree that lions were 
found in Europe, chiefly in what is now known as Balkan 
territory. They were reckoned as certainly less sagacious than 
elephants; but in point of nobility of character they held a 
higher reputation. It may be noted that they were the only 
creatures besides horses and human beings which possessed 
the gift of tears: 



"That great Philosopher Aristotle reports that the Lioness at 
her first litter brings forth five whelps and, every year after, one 
less; and when she comes to bring but one alone, she gives over 
and becomes barren. Her whelps are at the first without shape, 
like small gobbets of flesh, no bigger than weasels. When they are 
six months old, they can hardly walk, and for the first two, they 
stir not at all There are Lions also in Europe (but only between 
the rivers Achelous and Nestus) and these are far stronger than 
those of Africa or Syria. Moreover, there are two kinds of Lions; 
the one short, well trussed and compact, with manes more crisped 
and curly, but these are timorous and cowards compared with 
those that have long and plain hair, for these have no fear of wounds. 

"The Lion alone of all wild beasts is gentle to those who humble 
themselves to him and will not touch any such upon their submis- 
sion, but spares whatever creatures lieth prostrate before him. 
Fell and furious as he is at other times he discharges his rage upon 
men before he sets on women, and never preys on babes unless 
it is from extreme hunger. I have heard it reported for a fact by a 
female slave of Getulia that she had pacified the violent fury of 
many Lions within the woods and forests by fair language and 
gentle speech. She had been so hardy as to say, in order to escape 
their rage, that she was a silly woman, a banished fugitive, a sickly, 
feeble and weak creature, a humble suitor and lowly suppliant to 
him, the noblest of all living creatures, the sovereign and com- 
mander of all the rest, and that she was too base and not worthy 
that this glorious majesty should prey upon her. Many different 
opinions are current about savage beasts being dulced and appeased 
by good words and fair speech; as also that fell serpents may be 
trained and fetched out of their holes by charms and certain con- 
jurations and menaces. But whether it is true I do not see it set 
down and determined by any man, 

"To return to our Lions, the sign of their intent and disposition 
is their tail and, like as in horses, their ears. For when the Lion 
stirs not his tail he is in a good mood, gentle, mild, pleasantly 
disposed and as if he were willing to be played with. But in that fit 
he is seldom seen, for his most frequent state is to be always angry. 
At the first when he enters into his choler he beats the ground 
with his tail. When he grows into greater heats, he flaps and jerks 
his sides, as it were to quicken himself and stir up his angry humour. 
His generosity and magnanimity he shows most in his dangers, 


for he defends himself a long time with the terrible aspect of his 
countenance only. But his noble heart and courage is seen also in 
this that, however many hounds and hunters there are following 
after him, so long as he is out in the open, he comes to a stand 
every now and then as he makes his retreat, as though he contemned 
both dog and man. But when he has gained the thickets and woods 
and once got into the forests out of sight, then he runs amain for 
life, knowing full well that the trees and bushes hide him and that 
his shameful dislodging and flight are not then seen. If he chance 
to be wounded, he has a marvellous eye to mark the party that did 
it, and however many in numbers the hunters may be, he runs on 
him only. As for him who lets fly a dart at him and misses his mark 
and does no hurt, if he chance to catch him he touzes, shakes, 
tosses and turns him lying at his feet but does him no harm besides. 
Lions are not at all crafty and fraudulent, neither are they suspicious. 
They never look askew but always cast their eyes directly forward, 
and they do not like any man to look sidelong upon them. It is 
constantly believed that when they lie a-dying they bite the earth 
and in their very death shed tears. This creature, noble as he is, 
and so cruel and fell, trembles and quakes to hear the noise of 
cart-wheels or to see them turn round. Nay, he cannot of all things 
abide chariots when they are empty. He is also frightened at a 
cock's comb and much more at his crowing. But most of all is he 
frightened at the sight of fire. 

"The taking of Lions in old time was a very hard piece of work 
and was commonly in pitfalls. But in the days of the Emperor 
Claudius it happened that a shepherd from Gaetulia taught the 
manner of catching them; a thing that otherwise would have been 
thought incredible and altogether unworthy the name and honour 
of so goodly a beast. This Gaetulian, I say, happened to encounter 
a Lion; and when he was violently assailed by him made no more 
ado than to throw his mandilion or cassock full upon his eyes. 
This feat of his was soon practised in the open show-place, in 
a way that a man would hardly have believed if he had not seen it, 
that so furious a beast should be so easily daunted as soon as he 
felt his head covered, were the things ever so light; making no 
resistance but suffering one to bind him fast, as if all his spirit 
rested in his eyes. It is therefore less to be marvelled at that 
Lysimachus strangled a Lion when by the order of Alexander the 
Great he was shut up alone with him. 



"The first that yoked them at Rome and made them draw In a 
chariot was M. Antonius. It was in the time of civil war, after the 
battle of Pharsalia, a shrewd omen for the future event when 
generous spirits were about to be subdued. For what should I 
say of Antony riding in that wise with the courtesan Cytheris, 
a common Actress in Interludes upon the stage? To see such a 
sight was a monstrous spectacle that passed all the calamities of 
those times. 

"It is said that Hanno (one of the noblest Carthaginians that 
ever were) was the first man who dared handle a Lion with his bare 
hand and make him follow all over the city in a slip like a dog. 
But this trick of his cost him his undoing, for the Carthaginians 
thought it was a dangerous and ticklish point to put the liberty of 
so great a State as Carthage into the hands and management of 
him who could handle and tame the furious violence of so savage 
a beast, and so they condemned and banished him. We find in 
histories many examples of their clemency and gentleness seen 
on different occasions. Mentor the Syracusan happened in Syria 
to meet with a Lion who after an humble manner in token of 
obedience and submission tumbled and wallowed before him. 
He, astonished for very fear, started back and began to fly; but the 
wild beast still followed him and was ready at every turn to present 
himself before him, licking his footsteps as he went in flattering 
manner as if he would make love to him. Mentor at length was 
aware that the Lion had a wound in his foot and that it had swelled; 
whereupon he gently plucked out the spill of wood that had 
gotten into it and so eased the beast of his pain. This incident is 
represented in a picture at Syracuse. 

"In the same way Elpis, a Samian, when he landed in Africa, 
chanced to spy near the shore a Lion gaping wide and seeming to 
whet his teeth at him in menacing wise. He fled apace to take a 
tree and called upon god Bacchus to help him (for we commonly 
fall to our prayers when we see little or no hope of other help). 
The Lion did not stop him in his flight, although he could have 
crossed the way well enough, but laying himself down at the tree 
root with that open mouth of his with which he had scared the man, 
made signs to move his pity and compassion. Now the beast had 
lately fed greedily and had got a sharp bone within his teeth which 
put him to much pain. Besides that, he was almost famished and 
looked pitifully up to the man and after a sort with dumb and mute 



prayers besought his help. Elpis avised (considered) him a pretty 
while, and, beside not being very forward to venture upon the 
wild beast, he stayed the longer and made the less haste. At last 
he comes down from the tree and plucks out the bone, while the 
Lion held his mouth handsomely to him and composed himself to 
receive his helpful hand as fitly as he possibly could. In recom- 
pense of this good turn it is said that for as long as his ship lay 
there at anchor the Lion furnished him and his company with 
good store of venison, ready killed to his hand. And Elpis on his 
return dedicated a temple in Samos to god Bacchus. Can we marvel 
after this that wild beasts should mark the footsteps of man, seeing 
that in their extremity they have recourse to him alone for hope of 
succour? Surely the reason must be that grief, anguish, and extreme 
peril force even savage beasts to seek all means of help and relief." 

So much for the nobler animals. There were others that 
struck terror aad were merciless. Macbeth when confronted 
by Banquo's ghost declared that he would sooner face either 
of three terrifying wild animals: 

"What man dare, I dare: 
Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear, 
The arm'd rhinoceros, or the Hyrcan tiger; 
Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves 
Shall never tremble.'* 

There is little doubt that Shakespeare gleaned much of his 
natural history from Holland's translation,. And yet the bear 
earned a comparatively mild reputation and,, as we have seen, 
was, curiously enough, credited with the tenderest skull of 
any animal, the hardest being that of the parrot. It is a known 
fact that bears after they have passed the winter in seclusion 
are strict vegetarians for some time after they emerge. Pliny 
knew this too and gives his own explanation. He also hands 
on that curious account of the mother-bear and her method 
of licking the cubs into shape which has passed into a current 
phrase and was used by Pope in the couplet 

"So watchful Bruin forms, with plastic care, 
Each growing lump, and brings it to a bear." 



"The she-bear brings forth commonly five whelps at a time, 
At first they seem to be a lump of white flesh without any form, 
little bigger than rations, without eyes and without hair, although 
there is some show of claws. This rude lump they fashion with 
licking into some shape little by little. If they happen to have no 
den, they build themselves cabins of wood, gathering together a 
deal of boughs and bushes which they lay artificially together so 
that no rain can enter, and they strew the floor with soft leaves. 
For the first fourteen days (after they have taken up their lodging 
in this manner) they sleep so profoundly that they cannot possibly 
be wakened even if a man should lay on and wound them. In this 
drowsiness of theirs they grow wondrous fat, and the grease and 
fat thus gotten is used in medicine and is particularly good for 
those who shed their hair. These fourteen days passed, they sit 
on their rump or buttocks and fall to sucking of their fore-feet 
and this is all the food on which they live for the time. Their 
young whelps, when they are stark and stiff for cold, they huggle 
in their bosom and keep close to their warm breast, very much 
like birds that sit on their eggs. It is a very astonishing thing, and 
yet Theophrastus believes it, that if a man takes bear's flesh during 
those days and cooks it, it will grow and increase in bulk. Now, 
when spring is come they go forth out of their den, but by that 
time the males are exceedingly overgrown with fat and the first 
thing they do is to devour a certain herb named Aron (that is, 
Wakerobin) and that they do to open their guts; and to prepare 
their teeth for eating they whet and set the edge of them with the 
young shoots and tendrons of the briars and brambles. They are 
often subject to dimness of sight, for which reason they seek after 
honeycombs, that the bees may settle on them and with their 
stings make them bleed about the head and by that means discharge 
them of the heaviness which troubles their eyes. When they 
choose they will walk on their two hind legs upright, and they 
creep down from trees backwards. There is not a living creature 
more crafty and foolish withal when it does a shrewd turn. We 
find it recorded that Domitius -^Enobarbus exhibited 100 Numidian 
bears to be baited and chased in the great Circus and as many 
Ethiopian hunters. And I marvel that the chronicle mentions 
Numidian, for it is certain that no bears come out of Africa/* [24] 

On the subject of the rhinoceros and hippopotamus, both 
of them "river horses", the old naturalists were slightly mlxecU 


and it was mainly due to their somewhat confused impressions 
about these creatures that the unicorn was evolved later and 
achieved considerable notoriety. We are told that one of the 
great antipathies of nature existed between the rhinoceros and 
its sworn enemy, the elephant. It sharpened its horn against 
hard stones in preparation for battle and then charged straight 
at the elephant's belly " which he knows to be more tender 
than the rest". The following passage applies to the hippo- 
potamus and the sagacity with which it can bleed itself when 
suffering from various indispositions: 

"The river Nile brings forth another beast called Hippopotamus, 
taller than the Crocodile with a cloven foot like an ox. He has the 
back, mane and hair of a horse and he has his neighing also. His 
muzzle or snout turns up. His tail twines like the boar's and his 
teeth likewise are crooked and bending downwards, like the boar's 
tusks but not so hurtful. The skin or hide of his back is impene- 
trable (shields and headpieces of doughty proof are made of it that 
no weapon will pierce) unless it is soaked in water or some liquor. 
He eats the standing corn in the field; and folk say that he deter- 
mines beforehand where he will pasture and feed day by day and 
that he enters the field backwards to prevent his being ambushed 
against his return or being followed by his footing. 

"Marcus Scaurus in the plays and games which he gave in his 
yEdileship was the first man to make a show of one Water-horse 
and four Crocodiles, swimming in a pool made for the time 
during those solemnities. The River-horse has taught Physicians 
one device in their profession; for when he finds himself overgross 
and fat, by reason of his continual high feeding, he gets ashore 
out of the water, having spied where the reeds and rushes have 
been newly cut. Where he sees the sharpest and best pointed cane, 
he sets his body hard to it, to prick a vein in one of his legs, and 
thus by letting himself blood makes evacuation; whereby his body 
otherwise inclined to diseases and maladies is well eased of the 
superfluous humour. When he has done this he stops the orifice 
again with mud and so staunches the blood and heals up the 
wound." [25] 

The tiger, the third of the fierce animals mentioned by 
Macbeth, is accounted a creature of incomparable swiftness, 
strength, ferocity and extreme quickness of movement. The 



devotion of the tigress to her cubs was so great that she would 
pursue any hunters who carried them away and not cease the 
pursuit until they relinquished one of them. Then she would 
take the cub in her mouth, carry it back to her den, and return 
once more, when the same thing would happen. In the end 
she at last recovers the whole litter by this method of indepen- 
dent rescue. 

Dogs and horses are represented as being more the friends 
and servants of mankind than the cats. It is curious to note 
the attempts to interbreed dogs with tigers as well as with 
wolves. As truly domestic animals dogs were the only beasts 
which knew the names of their masters and the houses to 
which they belonged. No other creatures had such long 
memories, and for hunting they were invaluable. 

"They train the hunter who leads him by the collar and leash 
to the place where the beast lies. Having once gotten an eye on his 
game, how silent and secret are they! And yet how significant in 
their discovery of the beast to the hunter! First with wagging their 
tail, and afterwards with their nose, snuffing as they do. Therefore 
we do not wonder when hounds or beagles are over-old, weary and 
blind, if men carry them in their arms to hunt, to wind the beast 
and by the scent of the nose to show where the beast is at harbour. 
The Indians raise a breed between the dog and the tiger, and for 
this purpose tie up the bitches, when they go proud, and leave 
them in the woods for the male tigers. However, they do not rear 
the first or second litter of them, supposing that the dogs thus bred 
will be too fierce and eager: but the third they nourish and bring up. 

"The Gauls do the same with the wolf and the dog, and in every 
chase and forest there are whole flocks of them thus engendered 
that have one dog for their guide, leader and captain. Him they 
accompany when they hunt, him they obey and are directed by, 
for they keep an order of government and mastership among them- 
selves. In the voyage that Alexander the Great made in India, the 
King of Albania gave him a dog of an extraordinary bigness. 
Alexander taking great delight in so goodly and fair a dog let loose 
before it first Bears, afterwards wild Boars, and, last of all, fallow 
Deer. But this dog, making no reckoning of all this game, still 
lay couchant and never stirred or made at them. Alexander, a man 
of mighty spirit and high mind, offended at the laziness and coward- 



ice of so great a body, commanded that he should be killed, and 
so he was. News of this presently went to the King of Albania, 
who sent him a second dog with this message: that he should not 
make trial of this one also against such little beasts, but either set 
a Lion or an Elephant at him: saying also that he had only those 
two of that kind, and if he were killed likewise, he was likely to 
have no more of that race and breed. Alexander made no stay but 
presently put out a Lion and immediately saw his back broken and 
rent and torn to pieces by the dog. Afterwards he commanded an 
elephant to be brought forth and never took a greater pleasure in 
any fight more than this. For the dog at once with his long rough 
shaggy hair that spread over his whole body, came with full mouth, 
thundering (as it were) and barking terribly against the Elephant. 
Soon after he leaps and flies upon him, rising and mounting 
against the great beast, now on one side, now on the other, main- 
taining combat right artificially, one time assailing, another time 
avoiding his enemy. So nimbly he bestirs him from side to side 
that with continual turning to and from the Elephant grew giddy in 
the head, insomuch that he came tumbling down and made the 
ground shake under him with his fall." [26] 

Stories are told of dogs fighting in battle and of squadrons 
of mastiffs being placed in the vanguard. A good point is 
made of the cheapness of their equipment "They were never 
known, to draw back and refuse fight. They were the trustiest 
auxiliaries and were never so needy as to call for pay." As 
examples of faithfulness they would defend their masters 
when attacked and refuse to abandon the body of any whom 
they served. One man who was condemned at Rome for 
some offence was thrown down the scales gemonice (the Stairs 
of Wailing); but his dog would not leave the corpse and kept 
up a piteous howling in sight of the crowd which stood about 
to see the execution. When a piece of meat was thrown to 
the dog, he carried it to the mouth of his master lying dead 
below; and when the carcase was thrown into the Tiber the 
dog swam after it to prevent its sinking. Could devotion go 
further? * 

Horses and horse-racing were as popular in old days as they 
have ever been since. It is also a coincidence that almost every 



great general in history seems to have been associated with 
a remarkable charger. 

"Alexander the Great had a very strange and rare horse. It was 
called Bucephalus either for his crabbed and grim look, or else 
because of the mark of a bull's head which was imprinted on his 
shoulder. It is said that Alexander, when a child, on seeing this 
fair horse fell in love with him and bought him for sixteen talents. 
He would suffer no one to sit on him or come on his back except 
Alexander, and then he must have the King's saddle on and be 
trapped with royal furniture. This horse did a remarkable service 
in the wars; for when he was wounded at the assault of Thebes he 
would not suffer Alexander to alight from his back and mount 
upon another. Many other strange and wonderful things he did, 
and when he died the King solemnized his funeral most sumptu- 
ously, erected a tomb for him and built about it a city that bore his 
name, Bucephalia. 1 

"Caesar Dictator likewise had another horse that would suffer 
no man to ride him but his master. It had his forefeet resembling 
those of a man and is so represented before the temple of Venus, 
Mother. Moreover, Augustus Caesar made a sumptuous tomb for 
a horse that he had, on which Germanicus composed a poem. At 
Agrigentum there are seen Pyramids over many places where 
horses were entombed. The Scythians take a great pride in the 
goodness of their horses and Cavalry. A king of theirs happened 
to be slain by his enemy in single fight upon a challenge and when 
he came to despoil him of his arms and royal habit, the king's horse 
came upon him with such fury, flinging and laying about him with 
his heels, and biting, that he made an end of the conqueror's cham- 
pion. Horses are so docile and apt to learn that we find in histories 
how in the Sybarite army the whole of the cavalry used to leap and 
dance to certain music that they were accustomed to. They have a 
foreknowledge when battle is toward; they will mourn the loss of 
their masters and sometimes shed tears and weep piteously for love 
of them. Philistus relates that Dionysius was forced to leave his 
horse stuck fast in a quagmire and got away. But the horse after 
he had recovered himself followed the tracks of his master with a 

1 Bucephalus, according to Plutarch, died at the age of thirty; and Alexander 
"was no less concerned at his death than if he had lost an old companion or an inti- 
mate friend". He also, we are told, built another city, and called it after the name of 
a favourite dog, Peritas, which he had brought up himself, 



swarm or cast of bees settling in his mane. And this was the first 
presage of good fortune that induced Dionysius to usurp the King- 
dom of Sicily. 

"In the great race or Circus when they are set in their harness 
to draw the chariots we see how they rejoice in being encouraged 
and praised, showing how desirous they are of glory. At the 
Secular games, held by Claudius Caesar, the horses with the white 
livery, in spite of their driver the charioteer being flung to the 
ground even within the bars at the starting-post, won the first 
prize and went away with the honour of the day. For of themselves 
they did all that could be done against the other competitors just 
as well as if a most expert chariot-man had been over their backs 
to direct and instruct them. Men were ashamed at the sight, to 
see their skill and art overmatched and surpassed by horses. Beside 
that, when they had finished the race they stood still at the goal 
and would no further. 

"Our ancestors considered it a still greater wonder when in the 
Circensian games the horses, after the charioteer had been thrown, 
ran directly up to the Capitol as well as if he had stood still in his 
place and driven them; and there they fetched three turns round 
the temple of Jupiter. But I will now tell the greatest story of all, 
how the horses of Ratumenas who had won the prize in the horse- 
racing at Veii, threw their master down and came from Tuscany to 
Rome carrying the Palm branch and chaplet of Victory won by 
their master Ratumenas; from which the Ratumennian gate after- 
wards took its name. 

"The Sarmatians when about to take a great journey prepare 
their horses two days before and give them nothing to eat and only 
a little drink and they will then gallop them 150 miles on end and 
never draw bridle. Horses live, many of them, fifty years; but the 
mares not so long, coming to their full growth in five years, while 
horses grow one year longer. The making of good horses and their 
beauty has been most elegantly described by the Poet Virgil. And 
I too have written of that argument in my book which I lately put 
forth concerning Tourneys and shooting from horseback, and I 
see that all writers agree in those points I have set down. But for 
horses that are trained for racing some considerations must be 
observed different from horses of other service, since in other 
employments they may be trained when they are two-year-old 
colts; but they are not admitted to the contests of the Circus till 
they are five years of age," [27] 



It will be necessary to pass rapidly over bulls, camels, sheep 
and monkeys. 

The bull-fighting of the ancients was bull against bull 
The Thessalians were excellent cowboys and Caesar made a 
success of a Rodeo Show with which he entertained the 
Romans. It appears that the Thessalians invented a way of 
galloping close to the bulls to take them by the horns; then 
they "wryth their necks down and so kill them". 

In Egypt the ox was worshipped under the name of Apis. 
The beast chosen for the supreme honour must have a white 
spot on the right side and a mark like a beetle under its tongue. 
The priests drowned him after a fixed number of years, then 
went into mourning, shaving their heads out of exceeding 
sorrow, and proceeded to choose a successor. Apis was 
regarded as an oracle, and his movements were interpreted as 
of the greatest significance to the nation. He turned his head 
away from Germanicus when that Emperor offered him food; 
as a consequence Germanicus soon after died. Cambyses, too, 
the son of Cyrus, committed sacrilege by stabbing Apis, and 
himself suffered a wound in the same part of his body later 
on, to which he succumbed. In public processions the sacred 
ox was preceded by a company of pretty boys chanting 
canticles and songs in his honour and praise, at which, we 
are told, he was well pleased and contented to be thus wor- 
shipped. A short life but a merry one. 

Camels either with two "bunches" or only one carried 
packs and served as cavalry in the wars. They could go four 
days without drink, and before they drank always trampled 
with their feet to raise mud and sand* Otherwise they took 
no pleasure in their drinking. 

The Camelopard a supposed cross between the camel and 
leopard was the giraffe, and bore the compound name 
because it had white spots on a red ground and a head for all 
the world like a camel It was necked like a horse and had 
feet and legs like the ox. In the Roman shows it was extremely 
popular and earned the title of a Savage Sheep. 1 

1 Mandeville's description of the giraffes, which he calls **orafles** and the Arabians 



Apes and monkeys were the closest imitators of men. 

"They are marvellous crafty and subtle to beguile themselves; 
for whatever they see hunters do in front of them they will imitate 
them in every point, even to besmear themselves with glue and 
birdlime and shoe their feet within gins and snares and are caught 
by that means. Mutianus says he has seen Apes play at chess and 
tables, and that at first sight they could know nuts made of wax 
from others. He also affirms that when the moon is on the wane, 
the monkeys and marmosets (which in this kind have tails) are sad 
and heavy, but they adore the new moon, which they testify by 
hopping and dancing. All the She Apes are wondrous fond of 
their little ones and those that are tame in the house will carry 
them about in their arms as soon as they have brought them into 
the world; they will keep showing them to everybody and they 
take pleasure in having them dandled by others, as if they took it 
as a sign that folk rejoiced at their safe deliverance. Such a culling 
and hugging of them goes on that with it they often kill them/* 

[ 2 8] 

Baboons, with heads and long snouts like dogs, were the 
most cursed, shrewd and unhappy of monkeys, while the 
marmoset was the gentlest and most familiar. There seems 
little doubt that some of the larger apes were mistaken for 
strange races of men. 

Having begun with elephants we end with mice. White 
mice were a favourable omen; and all rats, mice and dormice 
were providentially forbidden to be eaten at suppers and feasts. 
At the siege of Casilinum a rat was sold in the town for 
200 sesterces and we learn that the man who bought it at that 
price lived, while the seller, for greediness of money, died of 

Plagues of rats were known for their destructive habits. 
They were believed to devour everything, even iron and some- 
times gold. Mice and rats also had a mysterious knowledge 
of the future and would desert a house about to tumble down 

"gerfaunts", is curious and worth quoting. "It is a beast, pomely (dappled like an. 
apple) or spotted, that is but a little more high than is a steed, but he hath the neck 

a great 

enty cubits long; and his croup and his tail is as of an hart; and he may look over 
eat high house." 


(a habit more popularly associated with sinking ships), 
although the first intimation was always made by the spiders 
who, with their webs, would fall to the ground. Another 
animal with a quick sense was the fox which would never 
pass over a frozen river or pool without first trying the thick- 
ness of the ice by his ear. The inhabitants of Thrace for this 
reason never risked crossing the ice until they had seen the 
foxes venture forth and return again. 

On Fabulous Creatures 

IT was the fashion in the Far East for certain creatures to 
preside over the elements the Phoenix over fire, the Tortoise 
over water, the Dragon over air, and a creature approximating 
to the Unicorn over the earth: and it is not to be wondered at 
that the Western world should from time to time have reflected 
the ideas which slowly filtered westward, particularly in 
associations where questions of magic, religion and fables 
were concerned. How far Roman and mediaeval science were 
affected in regard to the four creatures already mentioned may 
be briefly noted. 

The Tortoise never won the great reputation in Europe 
that it secured in China. It was chiefly commended for its 
slowness and sureness, in that respect courting an invidious 
comparison with the scatter-brained hare* However, Pliny 
did claim great powers for the tortoise as contributing reme- 
dies against poisons; and a kind of turtle soup was recom- 
mended as a sovereign cure for the king's evil 

The Unicorn, on the other hand, won the highest measure 
of merit and rose to become, from the thirteenth century 
onwards, an emblem representing the noblest virtues of 
strength, purity, beauty and complete perfection of animal 
form even symbolising Christ. Then it became secularised 
as a State emblem. Two unicorns were the supporters of the 
Crown in the Arms of Scotland until the Union with England, 
when James I took one of them and opposed it to the lion of 
England. That the unicorn and lion were natural enemies, 
(ancient lore is full of such antipathies), is borne out in that 
convenient vehicle of esoteric meanings, the nursery rhyme; 

F 65 


"The lion and the unicorn. 

Were fighting for the crown, 
The lion chased the unicorn, 
All round the town." 

The lion (or leopard) has always nobly supported the 
Crown of England, but from time to time in conjunction with 
different allies. It was seen in company with the antelope (a 
near relation of the unicorn) under Henry VI; with the bull 
under Edward IV; with the dragon, which had figured on the 
helm of King Arthur., under Henry VII and VIII; and with 
the greyhound under Mary and Elizabetii. 

Wiiat then was tlie origin of t&e unicorn? Oddly enougii, 
for such a courtly and graceful beast its extraction was of the 
humblest and clumsiest. The rhinoceros with its single horn 
or snout may be taken as the ancestor-in-chief, although Pliny 
mentions other unicorns, such as an Indian ox, an Indian ass 
and the monoceros, which professed to have a body resembling 
a horse, a head like a stag, feet like an elephant and the tail 
of a boar. It had, too, a single black horn in the middle of its 
forehead, two cubits in length; and it lowed in a horrible 

It is obvious that some original in real life had been observed 
by travellers in that far distant and vague region which was so 
often designated as "India 5 * or "Ethiopia" undefined parts 
of the world which covered a multitude of wonders. As 
travellers' tales passed from mouth to mouth they naturally 
became more and more involved and technical and further 
from the truth. Pliny quotes as one of his chief authorities, 
Ctesias, a writer of the fourth century, B.C., and it is from his 
account that the rhinoceros is credited in the Natural History 
with a cloven hoof, the mane and back of a horse (also a habit 
of neighing) and the twisted tail of a wild boar diverging 
in very few details from the monoceros. Evidently Pliny felt 
it best, considering the uncertainty surrounding this particular 
type of animal, to include every possible variety of the species. 
As to the benefits derived from the rhinoceros, its horn was 
highly valued as an antidote to poisons. For anyone drinking 



out of the cups made from It absolute safety was guaranteed, 
although the proof was not always forthcoming. 

By the sixth century A.D. the legend of the unicorn was 
beginning to take other shapes, somewhat of an allegorical 
nature. A story was told of the only manner in which this 
"right cruel beast" as it was described with a horn four- 
foot long in the middle of its forehead, so sharp and strong 
that its attack was irresistible could be captured. A virgin 
must be used as a decoy: "She openeth her lap and the Unicorn 
layeth thereon his head, and leaveth all his fieriness and sleep- 
eth in that wise." The explanation of this unusual sensibility 
was that the characters of the rhinoceros and the antelope had 
in some way been combined to supply a softer and more 
kindly disposition. Isidore of Seville, one of the most famous 
contributors to the bestiaries in the seventh century, tells the 
tale and describes a truly graceful unicorn, capable of being 
tamed and taken to the King's palace after having fallen a 
victim to these feminine influences. 

Coupled with this story is another, which speaks of the 
unicorn as the most aristocratic of all animals, leading the way 
to a pool of poisoned water and dipping his magic horn to 
make it safe for the rest of the herd to drink. We have seen 
that the rhinoceros had already been reputed to supply from 
its horn (the seat of power, according to the ancients and 
frequently used in that sense in the Bible) an antidote for 
poison, so that the same tradition is carried through the 
centuries, to the days when the alicorn (or unicorn's horn) 
was used to test food and drink during the terrible and em- 
barrassing period of diplomatic poisoning in Europe asso- 
ciated with the Borgias. The tusk of the Narwhal, which 
most nearly represents the principle of the single horn in 
nature, became henceforth an important article of commerce 
and fetched enormous prices from those who felt that their 
lives might easily depend on its magical intervention. 

As to the Phoenix, Pliny tells us that of all the birds of 
India and Ethiopia the lands of mystery magnificent as 
they might be, the "Arabian bird" eclipsed them all Shake- 



speare applies the legend very charmingly to the Princess 
Elizabeth and likens her to "the maiden phoenix" from whose 
ashes should rise an heir, 

"When heaven shall call her from this cloud of darkness, 
Who from the sacred ashes of her honour 
Shall star-like rise, as great in fame as she was. 
And so stand fixt." 

But it appears that Shakespeare had in his allusion mis- 
construed the sex of the phoenix at any rate as understood 
by Pliny: 

"However, I cannot tell what to make of him, whether it is a 
tale or no that there is only one of them in the whole world, and 
the same not commonly seen. By report he is as big as an Eagle; 
for colour, as yellow and bright as gold; the rest of his body 
(namely, all about the neck) a deep purple; the tail azure blue, 
intermingled with feathers of a rose carnation colour; and the head 
bravely adorned with a crest and pennache finely wrought, having 
a tuft and plume right fair and goodly to be seen. Manilius, the 
noble Roman Senator, versed in the best kind of learning and litera- 
ture, and yet never taught by any, was the first man of the long 
Robe who wrote of this bird at large and most exquisitely. He 
reports that no one was ever known to see him feeding; that in 
Arabis he is held a sacred bird, dedicated to the Sun; that he lives 
660 years; and when he grows old and begins to decay, he builds 
himself a nest with the twigs and branches of the Canell, or Cinna- 
mon, and Frankincense trees; and when he has filled it with all sort 
of sweet Aromatical spices he yields up his life thereupon. He says 
moreover, that from his bones and marrow there springs at first 
as it were a little worm, which afterwards proves to be a pretty 
bird. And the first thing that this young Phoenix does is to perform 
the obsequies of the former Phoenix late deceased, to translate and 
carry away his whole nest into the city of the Sun near Panchaea, 
and to bestow it full devoutly there upon the altar. Manilius also 
affirms that the revolution of the great year so much spoken of 
(when the Stars return again to their first points and give the same 
times and seasons as at the beginning) agrees exactly with the life 
of this bird. Cornelius Valerianus writes that when Q. Plautius 
and Sex. Papinius were Consuls, the Phoenix flew into Egypt. He 
was brought to Rome at the time that Claudius Cxsar was Censor 



and exhibited in a full hall and general assembly of the people, as 
appears on the public records. However, no one ever doubted 
that he was a counterfeit Phoenix, and no better.'* [29] 

Birds had so many strange powers attributed to them that 
Pliny has difficulty in taking all the accounts handed down 
quite seriously. The limits to his credulity are in fact re- 
markably well defined. 

"I look upon the birds as fabulous which are called Pegasi, headed 
like horses, and the Griffons which are supposed to have long ears 
and a hooked bill. I take them to be mere fables that the Pegasi 
are in Ethiopia, and the Griffons in Scythia (guarding the gold in 
the mountains). Moreover, I think the same of the Tragopan 
('goat Pan') which many men affirm to be greater than the Eagle, 
having crooked horns like a Ram on either side of the head, of 
the colour of iron and the head only red. Neither will I believe 
there are the birds Sirens, let Dino, the father of Clitarchus that 
renowned writer, say what he will. He asserts for a truth that they 
exist in India and that they charm folk asleep with their singing and 
then fly upon them and tear them in pieces. 

"He that will credit these fables may as well believe that dragons 
forsooth taught Melarnpus by licking his ears how to understand 
the language of birds when they sing on trees, or cry and chirp in 
the air. Likewise the tales that Democritus tells, who named 
certain birds from whose blood mingled together and allowed to 
corrupt a serpent is produced, which if a man eats he will know 
what birds say to one another. Then there are the strange things 
he tells of the Lark above the rest. In truth, without these fabulous 
lies men's heads are occupied enough (and too much so) about the 
Auguries of birds without any need to busy their brains about these 
toys. Homer in the Odyssey speaks of a kind of bird called Scopes, 
but I cannot comprehend those Satyrical gesticulations of theirs 
when they are perched which so many men talk of. Nor can I think 
it is a bird that is of our knowledge nowadays. Therefore it is far 
better to write of those which we know." [30] 

The story of how cinnamon was obtained attracts some 
interest because it has to do with a number of Eastern stories 
connected with large birds, the type of "roc" which conveyed 
Sinbad the Sailor through the air. This is what Pliny says: 

6 9 


"Fabulous antiquity, and the prince of liars, Herodotus, have 
reported, that in that tract where Bacchus was nourished, 
Cinnamon and Canell either fell from the nests of certain 
fowls, and principally of the Phoenix, through the weight of 
the venison and flesh which they had preyed upon and brought 
thither as they built in high rocks and trees; or else was 
driven and beaten down by arrows headed with lead." Also 
Canell or Cassia was got from certain marshes, "guarded and 
kept with a kind of cruel Bats, armed with terrible and dreadful 
talons, and with certain flying Pen-dragons/' Pliny was not 
easily carried away with improbable tales and he says that he 
only thinks they were invented to put up the price of the 

What Herodotus (whom Pliny so impolitely calls a liar) 
actually says is that the Arabians cut up dead oxen and asses 
into large pieces of meat which they placed near the nests. 
The great birds, which had built their nests of cinnamon 
sticks, then carried up the large pieces of meat, and these proved 
to be of such a weight that they broke down the nests and 
fell, bringing down the cinnamon with them. 

Dragons never gained quite the same vogue in Europe that 
they did in the East. The Asiatics regarded them as symbolical 
of evil: in the West they were treated as in many ways benefi- 
cent. They did not fly in the air, for instance, but were ordin- 
ary land and sea serpents. 1 Again it was in India, where owing 
to the goodness and fatness of the ground, the temperate air 
and the abundance of water, everything grew to immense 
sizes, that serpents loomed especially large. In Ethiopia they 
reached twenty cubits in length and sometimes were plumed 
and could cross the seas wrapped together like a hurdle or 
lattice work, cutting the waves and bearing their heads aloft 
to serve as sails in order "to find better pasturage in Arabia'*. 
The boa-constrictor's habits are known to be exceedingly 

1 Pliny, curiously enough, does not mention the mysterious "flying serpents" 
which Herodotus had written about. The reason for the great esteem in which the 
ibis was held in Egypt lay in the fact that these birds resisted the invasion of the 
swarms of flying serpents from Arabia in the spring at the point of a certain narrow 
gorge and completely destroyed them. Isaiah also mentions the flying serpents. 



formidable; but the ancients were able to improve upon them. 

"Megasthenes writes that there are serpents among the Indians 
grown to such bigness that they can swallow stags or bulls whole. 
Metrodorus says that near the river Rhyndacus in Pontus there are 
serpents that catch and devour birds however strongly and high 
they fly. It is well known that Attilius Regulus, General under the 
Romans, during the wars against the Carthaginians assailed a 
Serpent near the river Bagrada, which was 120 feet long. Before 
he could conquer him he was driven to discharge on him arrows, 
quarrels, stones, bullets and such-like shot out of brakes, slings 
and other engines of artillery as if he had given the assault to some 
strong fortress. And the proof of this was to be seen by the marks 
remaining in his skin and jaws which were placed in a temple of 
Rome. And this is all the more credible since we see in Italy other 
serpents called Boa, so big and huge that one of them, killed in the 
Vatican, was found to have an infant all whole in his belly. This 
serpent lives at first on cow's milk and therefore takes the name of 
Boa." [31] 

A snake that acquired an unsurpassed reputation for evil 
was the basilisk; small but exceedingly venomous. In Cym- 
beline Posthumus speaks of his ring 

"It is a basilisk unto mine eye 
Kills me to look on V 

And Pliny bears witness to its malignant power, that it had 
only to hiss once for any other serpent to beat a hasty retreat. 
Its habit was not to crawl along the ground; but it "goes 
upright and aloft", scorching grass and herbs in its progress. 
The story was told that once on a time when a basilisk was 
killed by a horseman, the poison was so strong that it travelled 
up the lance and destroyed both man and horse. Yet for this 
deadly serpent Nature had kindly provided an antidote in 
the mongoose, which Pliny describes as a weasel. The smell 
of the mongoose had an overwhelming power over the snake. 
Both died when the "weasel" was cast in the holes where the 
basilisk lay. The quarrels between the elephant and the dragon 
ended in the same fatal manner, because the dragon tied the 



elephant fast in a knot and the elephant In falling crushed to 
death the dragon wreathed about him. 

The wolf was in many ways the most sinister of the animals. 
The magical transformation of a man into a wolf was a belief 
which has given the ugly turn to the epithet "turncoat". 

"It is commonly thought in Italy that the eyesight of wolves 
is hurtful and that if they see a man before the man spies them they 
cause him to lose his voice for the time being. Those that are bred 
in Africa and Egypt are small and without spirit. In the colder 
clime they are more eager and cruel. That men can be transformed 
into wolves and restored again to their former shape, we must 
confidently believe to be a loud lie, unless we give credit to all 
those tales which we have for so many ages found to be mere 
fabulous untruths. But as this opinion has become so firmly fixed 
as to have caused the term Versipellis (turn-coats, or changing the 
skin) to be the most opprobrious word of defiance or imprecation, 
I think it not amiss to point out its origin. Euanthes says that he 
found among the records of the Arcadians that there was a family 
of the Antaei out of which one member must of necessity be trans- 
formed into a wolf; and when the family has cast lots who it shall 
be, they accompany the party on whom the lot has fallen to a cer- 
tain lake in that country. There they turn him naked out of all 
his clothes, which they hang on an oak near by* He swims over to 
the other side and having entered the wilderness is presently trans- 
figured and turned into a wolf and keeps company with his like 
for nine years. If he forbears all the while to eat man's flesh he 
returns again to his former shape of a man again, save only that he 
will look nine years older than before. Fabius adds that he takes 
again the same apparel that was hung up on the oak. It is a wonder 
to see the pass to which these Greeks are come in their credulity* 
There is no lie so shameless but it finds someone to uphold and 
maintain it. 1 

"So, too, Agriopas tells a tale of one Demaenetus that at a certain 
solemn sacrifice (which the Arcadians celebrated in honour of 
Jupiter Lycasus) he tasted the inwards of a child that was killed 

1 The story of the werewolf probably first came from Herodotus and Is repeated 
in the loup-garou of France. According to Herodotus every Neurian once a year 
became a wolf for a few days, at the end of which time he became his normal self, 
"Not that I believe this," he adds, **but they constantly affirm it to be true, and are 
even ready to back their assertion with an oath/* 



for a sacrifice according to the manner of the Arcadians (who used 
even to shed man's blood in their divine service) and so was turned 
into a wolf. Ten years afterwards he became a man again, was 
present at the public games, wrestled, did his devoir, and returned 
home victorious from Olympia." [32] 

Several stories have to do with gold which seems to have 
had attractions for other creatures beside men. In an age 
when there must have been large quantities of buried treasure 
it is conceivable that some of the stories were purposely 
manufactured to scare off intending thieves. The griffins were 
the recognised custodians of gold in the mountains; 1 but the 
most extraordainary story of all concerns the Ant-lion, 
originally mentioned by Herodotus as being of the size of a 
fox, which was the progeny of a lion on the father's side and 
an ant on the mother's; for ants evidently could grow to a 
surprising size in ancient days and in foreign parts. This 
fearsome beast had the fore part of a lion and the hind part 
of an ant and suffered in consequence from not being able to 
eat meat like his father, nor herbs like his mother. Pliny tells 
a tale, very difficult to explain, of the capabilities of these 
strange creatures: 

"In the temple of Hercules at Erythrae there were to be seen the 
horns of a certain Indian Ant which were set up there for a wonder 
to posterity. In the country of the Northern Indians named 
Dardae the Ants cast up gold above the ground from the holes and 
mines within the earth; they are like cats in colour and as big as the 
wolves of Egypt. This gold which they work up in the winter time, 
the Indians steal from them in the extreme heat of summer, waiting 
their opportunity when the ants lie close within their caves under 
the ground, protected from the parching sun. Yet not without 
danger, for if the ants happen to wind them and catch their scent, 
out they go and follow after them in great haste, and fly upon them 
with such fury that often they tear them in pieces. Let them make 

1 For a fuller description of Griffins we may refer to Mandeville, The tipper 
part of the body was that of an eagle; the lower the shape of a lion. But it was stronger 
than eight lions and, taking each part separately, stronger than a hundred eagles. 
It was thus able to carry a great horse, or two oxen, at a time to its nest. Its talons 
were like the horns of oxen and out of them were made drinking cups; and from its 
ribs and "the pens of its wings*' were made bows of great strength and reliability. 



way as fast as they can on their swiftest Camels, they are not able 
to save themselves, so fleet of pace, so fierce of courage are they to 
recover the gold that they love so well" 2 [33] 

We now come to mermaids and the less attractive mermen. 
The philosopher Anaximander in the fifth century B.C. had 
in his theory of creation advanced the theory of a primordial 
slime from which all living creatures sprang. He even believed 
that man at first resembled a fish an evolutionary theory of 
great originality. Whether Charles Lamb's description of 
certain acquaintances of his as "odd fishes" is a survival of 
this old idea may be uncertain; but one conclusion is quite 
certain that it caused comparatively little surprise in the old days 
when mermaids and mermen were encountered on the rocks. 

"In the time of Tiberius an Ambassador came expressly from 
Ulysipon to say that on their sea coast was discovered in a cavern 
a sea goblin, called Triton, sounding a shell like a Trumpet or 
Cornet; and that he was in form and shape like those that are 
commonly painted for Tritons. As for the Mermaids, it is no fabu- 
lous tale about them, for they are just as the painters draw them; 
only their body is rough and scaled all over. Such a Mermaid was 
plainly seen on the same coast near the shore and the inhabitants 
dwelling near heard it afar off, when it was a-dying, making a 
piteous moan, crying and chattering very heavily. Moreover, a 
lieutenant or governor under Augustus Caesar in Gaul wrote that 
many Mermaids were seen cast up upon the sands and lying dead* 
I am able to cite divers Knights of Rome, right worshipful persons 
and of good credit, who testify that on the coast of the Spanish 
Ocean near Gades, they have seen a Merman, in every respect 
resembling a man; and they report that in the night he would come 
out of the sea aboard their ships; but on whichever side he settled 
he weighed it down, and if he rested and continued there any length 
of time he would clean sink it" [34] 

2 Herodotus gives a full description of this gold hunting. The "great sand ants'* 
which are smaller than dogs Jbut bigger than foxes "make their dwellings under- 
ground, and like die Greek ants, which they very much resemble in shape, throw up 
sand-heaps as they Burrow. Now the sand which they throw up is full of gold"- 
This the Indians collect during the hottest part of the day when the ants hide them- 
selves to escape the heat. When they get away on their camels the ants, scenting 
them, start in pursuit. This is the original story which was enlarged on later. Hie 
only plausible conjecture is that it started with an account of the Pengolin, or Ant- 
eater, which is found in Northern India. 



Of Birds 

THE religious instinct has had the effect of making mankind 
look instinctively upwards to the sky for inspiration, and 
the Romans were no exception in being attracted to the wide 
scope of the air in which the birds have their habitation. 
Jupiter was the god of the sky; his "squire", or armour- 
bearer, was the eagle, chosen for its native strength and fero- 
city. As a matter of privilege in holding this office the king 
of birds was made impervious to lightning. 

Nor was it merely an accident that the birds more than any 
other living creatures seemed to embody in their persons the 
different virtues and vices. On the virtuous side, the eagle 
represented might and majesty; turtle doves domestic faith- 
fulness and happiness; the ostrich speed; the goose gravity 
and wisdom; the nightingale the supreme art of music; the 
phoenix the soul's immortality. As representatives of the 
vices, the cuckoo stood for presumption and intolerance; the 
peacock for vanity; screech-owls, crows and ravens for mis- 
fortune; parrots for excessive loquacity. Finally, the kingfisher 
foretold fine weather; and poultry constituted the chief medium 
of the fortune teller. 

Turning to the scientific aspect of birds, a point to be 
noticed is that eagles and hawks were not too easily distin- 
guished. Classification and names were used in ancient days 
according to the roughest and readiest methods. Not until 
Linnaeus revived the whole problem afresh was any workable 
and co-ordinated system ever arrived at. Aristotle attempted 
an ingenious method of dividing birds according to their 
diet into the classes which fed on flesh, seed, insect, fish or 



green stuff. Pliny seems to have observed no order of any 
kind. He brackets such birds as the goose, bustard, heathcock, 
the cranes that waged war on the Pygmies, storks and swans, 
flamingoes and the guinea fowl, popinjays or parrots, black- 
birds (a white variety was to be found only in Arcadia) and a 
number of other birds quite impossible to, identify. 

Six kinds of eagles are mentioned, of which the cleverest 
was called Perenos by Homer. This bird lived among the 
lakes and meres and was famous for carrying tortoises aloft 
and then dropping them to break their shells. ^ The poet 
Jischylus met his death from this dangerous habit. He had 
been told by the wizards that he would die on a certain day by 
something falling on his head. He therefore went out into a 
great open plain, thinking to avoid the danger. But an eagle 
unexpectedly let a tortoise fall over the spot where he was 
standing and "dashed out his brains and laid him asleep for 
ever " t h e effect, it might almost be said, of two stones with 
one bird. 

A certain kind of "eagle", probably the osprey, was more 
Spartan than the rest in her methods of education: 

"She is the only one that will beat and strike her little ones with 
her wings before they are feathered and by doing so force them 
to look full against the Sun's beams. If she sees any one of them 
to wink, or their eyes to water at the rays of the Sun, she turns it 
head foremost out of the nest, as a bastard and not right, nor none 
of hers. But she brings up and cherishes the one whose eye will 
abide the light of the Sun as she looks directly upon him.*' [3 5] 

Such a severe standard of discipline marked out the eagle 
as a worthy leader of the Roman legions in battle. At first 
the honours were divided between ensigns representing eagles, 
wolves, minotaurs, horses and boars; but gradually the King 
of Birds reigned supreme and the rest of the ensigns were left 
behind in the camp. It thus came about that the silver eagle 
crowned the standard of each legion. Since that date the eagle 
has presided over the fortunes of France, Germany, Austria, 
Russia and, as another traditional rival of the British lion, 


Just as dogs were used on earth for hunting, so were hawks 
used in the sky. Falconry was a favourite sport in Thrace. 

"Near Amphipolis men and hawks join in fellowship and catch 
birds together. The men drive the woods, beat the bushes and 
reeds to spring the fowl; then the hawks flying overhead, seize 
upon them, and either strike or bear them to the ground. The 
hawkers and fowlers for their part, when they have caught the 
fowl, divide the booty with the hawks. It is said that they let 
these birds fly at liberty again and then the hawks are ready to 
catch for themselves. Moreover, when it comes to hawking, they 
will signify to the falconers by their number of cry and flying 
together that there is good game abroad and so draw them out to 
take the opportunity." [36] 

As opposed to the ferocity of the eagle the picture of the 
turtle-doves represented a state of domestic happiness; the 
mated pair were ever true to one another, although the cock 
bird was apt at times to be tyrannical. 

"The females are very meek and patient: they will endure and 
abide their imperious males, notwithstanding that sometimes they 
are very churlish unto them, offering them wrong and hard measure. 
They are jealous of the hens and suspicious (although without any 
cause and occasion given, for they are passing chaste and continent 
by nature) and then you will hear the cocks grumble in the throat, 
and all to rate the hens; you will see them peck and job at them 
cruelly with their beaks, and yet soon after, by way of satisfaction 
and to make amends again for their curt usage, they will fall to 
billing and kissing them lovingly. They will make court to them 
and woo them kindly, they will turn round about many times 
together by way of flattery and as it were by prayers seek unto 
them for their love. The male as well as the female are careful of 
their young pigeons and love them alike. You will see the cock 
often rebuke, nay chastise the hen, if she keep not the nest well; 
or having been abroad, for not coming home sooner to her young. 
And yet they are kind to them when they are about to build, lay 
and sit. One can see how ready they are to help, to comfort and 
minister to them in this case. As soon as the eggs are hatched, you 
will see them at the very first spit in the mouths of the young 
Pigeons salt brackish earth which they have gathered in their 



throat In order to prepare their appetite to meat and to season their 
stomacks against the time they should eat Doves and Turtles 
have this property in their drinking, not to hold up their bills 
Between whiles and draw their necks back, but to take a large 
draught at once, as horses and kine do." [37] 

Ostriches were accounted the largest of the birds and the 
most similar to four-footed beasts, since they were taller than 
a man and swifter than a horse. Pliny says they had cloven 
hoofs like red deer and that they fought with them, picking 
up stones as they ran away and throwing them at their pur- 
suers. It did not escape his notice that the ostrich a can concoct 
and digest [digestion was regarded as a kind of cooking] any- 
thing whatsoever without difference or choice; yet they are 
so foolish that they think. In spite of their height,, that they 
are safe from observation if they thrust their head and neck 
in a shrub or bush* 5 . Ostrich plumes (pennaches) were used 
to adorn the helmets of soldiers in the wars. 

The goose has suffered a decline in the world's estimation. 
The Romans were eternally grateful to the bird for having 
saved the Capitol from capture when the dogs should by 
right have first given the alarm. For this reason the Censors 
by virtue of their office had to see as their first duty that the 
sacred geese were well fed and cared for. Contrary to most 
modern ideas the bird was regarded as the embodiment of 
learning and wisdom. 1 It was sometimes treated as a household 
pet. Lacydes, the philosopher, had a tame goose which never 
left him night or day ? neither in the open street nor in the 
house, and followed him even to the private baths when he 
went to bathe. 

Pati defois gras and giblets were reckoned great delicacies. 

"Our countrymen and citizens of Rome (Believe me) know 
forsooth how to make a dainty dish of their liver. In those Geese 
that are kept up and crammed fat in coop the liver grows to be 
exceeding great, and when it is taken forth of the belly it waxes 
bigger still if it is steeped in milk and sweet mead. Therefore there 

1 Compare the Greek owl which for two centuries accompanied the figure of 
Athena on the coinage. 



is good reason to enquire about the first inventor of this good and 
singular commodity to mankind, whether it was Scipio Metellus, 
lately called to be Consul, or M. Sestius who in those days was by 
birth a gentleman of Rome. But leaving that undecided, it is known 
for certain that Messalinus Cotta, son of the Orator, found out 
the secret to broil and fry the flat broad feet of Geese and with 
Cocks* combs to make a favourite dish of meat between two 
platters. I for my part will certainly give every man his due and 
will not defraud of their singular praise and honour those who 
have been benefactors to the kitchen and masters in cookery." [38] 

In the same way that in England the geese used to march to 
London along the Great North Road and from other parts of 
the country, so flocks of them went all the way "barefoot" 
from Tourney in France as far as Rome. An ingenious device 
was to put the weary ones that lagged behind in the front, and 
"so the rest by a certain thick united squadron (which they 
make naturally when they go together) drive the others before 

Beside their use for the table, geese provided feathers and 
soft down for bolsters and pillows. The gentle "fine smooth 
dames", and the men as well, could not sleep properly without 
pillows, and complained of a pain in their necks if they had 
not a soft support for their heads. The best quality came from 
Germany. Frequently on active service in that country, as 
Pliny evidently discovered for himself, companies of soldiers, 
instead of keeping guard, would break discipline and scour 
the country for geese, to secure the feathers and down. A 
pound of feathers would fetch as much as five deniers. 

Another honour and distinction conferred on the saviours 
of the Capitol was that the sign of the Golden Goose was 
flown at the masthead of the great corn freighters which 
carried cargo between Africa and Egypt and Rome. The 
emblem was painted all over the furniture of the ship, and this 
happy association with successful commerce seems to account 
for the tradition of the goose that laid the golden eggs. 

The art of music was represented by the nightingale vox 
et praeterea nihiL This bird was so great a master of singing, 



that it taught its young ones note by note (a story impaired by 
the ascertained fact that the parents have invariably ceased 
singing by the time the young ones are old enough to learn). 
Instances of this belief still occur in country districts. A good 
song bird at Rome would fetch the price of a good page, or 
harness-bearer. Pliny knew of a rare white nightingale which 
Claudius Caesar purchased for 6,000 sesterces as a present to 
the Empress Agrippina. 

Men could imitate the song of the nightingale "by a device 
of putting water in a reed or cane held across the mouth and 
by putting their tongue in a hole made on purpose for it and 
blowing". The trick was so perfectly executed that it was 
impossible to detect the difference; possibly more effectively 
than with the modem toy. 

Here is a charming passage in praise of the nightingale, 
which recalls the proficiency of the Elizabethans in all forms 
of vocal music. 

"Is it not a wonder that so loud and clear a voice should come 
from so little a body? Is it not as strange that she should hold her 
wind so long and continue with it as she does? Moreover, she alone 
in her songs keeps time and measure truly; she rises and falls in 
her note, just with the rules of music and perfect harmony. For 
one while, in one entire breath, she sustains her tune at length; 
another while she quavers and goes away as fast in her roulades; 
sometimes she makes stops and short cuts in her notes; another 
time she gathers in her wind and sings descant between the plain 
song. She fetches her breath again, and then you will have her in 
her catches and divisions. Anon all of a sudden, before a man could 
think it, she drowns her voice so that one can scarcely hear her. 
Now and then she seems to record to herself, and then she breaks 
out to sing voluntary. In sum, she varies and alters her voice to 
all keys; one while, full of her largs, longs, and briefs, semibriefs 
and minims; another while in her crochets, quavers, semiquavers, 
and double semiquavers. For at one time you will hear her voice 
full and loud, another time as low; and anon shrill and on high: 
thick and short when she wishes, drawn out at leisure again when 
she is disposed; and then (if she be so pleased) she rises and mounts 
up aloft, as it were with a wind-organ. Thus she alters from one 



to another and sings all parts, the Treble, the Mean, and the Base. 
To conclude, there is not a pipe or instrument in the world, devised 
with all the Art and cunning of man, that can afford more music 
than this pretty bird out of that little throat of hers: so much so 
that no doubt it was an excellent presage of a nightingale that settled 
upon the mouth of Stresichorus the Poet and there sung full 
sweetly; who afterwards proved to be one of the most rare and 
admirable musicians that ever was." [39] 

On the habits and characteristics of the Cuckoo, Aristotle 
and Pliny appear to have differed. Aristotle says distinctly 
that the cuckoo does not change into a hawk in the autumn 
and explains the error as arising from the fact that the hawk 
disappears just at the time when the cuckoo arrives and that 
it is seen again when the time comes for the cuckoo to depart 
a statement true at any rate of the sparrow-hawk. The 
similarity of flight may also have added to the confusion. 
Pliny, however, adheres firmly to the hawk tradition, which is 
a belief by no means uncommon, at the present day. Here is 
his account of the habits of a bird which has always excited 
so much interest and controversy. 

"They always lie in other birds' nests, and most of all in the 
Stock-doves', usually one egg and no more (which is the case with 
no other bird) and seldom twain. The reason why they would 
have other birds sit on their eggs and hatch them is because they 
know how all birds hate them, for even the very little birds are 
ready to war with them. For fear therefore that the whole race of 
them should be utterly destroyed by the fury of others of the same 
kind, they make no nest of their own (being otherwise timorous 
and naturally fearful of themselves) and so are forced by this 
crafty shift to avoid the danger. The Titling therefore that sits, 
being thus deceived, hatches the egg and brings up the chick of 
another bird. And this young Cuckoo being greedy by nature, 
beguiling the other young birds and intercepting their meat, grows 
fat and fair-liking and so comes into special grace and favour with 
the mother of the rest. She rejoices to see so goodly a bird toward 
and wonders at herself for having hatched and reared so trim a 
chick. The rest, which are her own indeed, she sets no store by, as 
if they were changlings. In regard of that one she counts them all 

G 81 


bastards and misbegotten; yea, and suffers them to be eaten and 
devoured of the other even before her face. This she does until 
the young cuckoo being fledged and ready to fly ? is so bold as to 
seize upon the old Titling and to eat her up that hatched her. For 
goodness and sweetness of meat there is not another bird comparable 
to the young Cuckoo," [40] 

Pliny is correct in saying that the young cuckoo does 
manage to get rid of its young companions a task it per- 
forms by working its back under an unfortunate neighbour 
and then tipping it over the side. This continues until the 
cuckoo remains in sole possession of the nest The dastardly 
charge of murdering the old titling fortunately is not sub- 

The peacock bore a reputation not only for pride and vain- 
glory, but also for maliciousness, in that way contrasting un- 
favourably with the goose which was invariably bashful and 
modest. The peacock would spread its tail, showing and 
setting out his colours to the utmost so that they shone like 
precious stones. But when it lost its tail (moulting every year 
when the trees shed their leaves) then "he has no delight to 
come abroad until such time as trees blossom again". As a 
dish for the table Hortensius, the orator, was the first to 
exploit the peacock, at the solemn feast when he was conse- 
crated High Priest: the feathers, it may be noted, still figure 
on great ceremonial occasions at Rome. In the time of the 
Empire peacocks were regularly fattened for the market. 

The birds of ill omen were the crow, the raven and the 
screech-owl. Opinion was not unanimous about the crow, 
because by some authorities it was considered to be on the 
whole a good-omened bird. The screech-owl, however, 
always betokened heavy news. It flew at night time about 
desert places and was, in short, the very monster of the night, 
never crying out clearly but uttering a heavy groan of doleful 
moaning. Another unfortunate characteristic was the sidelong 
manner of its flight, as it drifted along, carried away 7 as it 
seemed, by the current of the wind. Certainly an uncanny 



The cry of the ravens was an adverse omen, "when they 
seemed to swallow in their voice as though they were choked 35 . 
Macbeth accepted die sign as foreboding death 

"The raven himself is hoarse 
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan 
Under my battlements." 

A more cheerful side appears, however., in the queer 
humour that has from time to time been associated with the 
raven. "Grip" in Barnaby Rudge was exuberantly proud of 
his brimstone birth and questionable parentage; but a distin- 
guished ancestor, which could boast of a State funeral, would 
no doubt have excited his fiercest jealousy. 

"In the days of Tiberius a young Raven was hatched in a nest : 
upon the church of Castor and Pollux, and in making a trial flight 
alighted in a shoemaker's shop just opposite the said church. The 
master of the shop was well enough content to receive this bird, 
as commended to him from so sacred a place, and therefore set 
great store by it. This Raven in a short time became acquainted 
with man's speech and every morning would fly up to the top of 
the Rostra, or public pulpit for Orations, and there, turning to 
the open Forum, he would salute and bid good-morrow to Tiberius 
Csesar, and after him to Germanicus and Drusus, the young 
princes, each by their names. Then he greeted the people of Rome 
also that passed by. When he had done so, he would again fly to 
the shoemaker's shop. This duty he practised for many years 
together, to the great wonder and admiration of all men. Now it 
fell out that another shoemaker, who had taken the next corviner's 
shop, either from a malicious envy or some sudden anger at the 
Raven chancing to set some spot upon a pair of his shoes, killed 
the said Raven. At this the people took such indignation that they 
rose in an uproar, and drove him out of that. Not long after they 
murdered him for it. The carcass of the dead Raven was solemnly 
interred and the funeral performed with all the ceremonial obsequies 
that could be devised; for the corpse of this bird was bestowed in a 
coffin, couch or bed, bedecked with chaplets of fresh flowers of all 
sorts, carried on the shoulders of two black Moors with minstrels 
before sounding the hautboys and playing on the fife, as far as the 
funeral fire which was piled on the right-hand side of the Appian 



Way, two miles outside the city, in an open field called Redicull 
The people of Rome reputed so highly the ready wit and apt dis- 
position in a bird that they thought it sufficient cause to ordain a 
sumptuous burial for it; yea., and to revenge its death by murdering 
a citizen in that city in which many a brave man died without 
anyone solemnising their funerals: in that city, I say, which found 
no man to revenge the unworthy death of the renowned Scipio 
jfenilianus after he had won both Carthage and Numantia." [41] 

Ravens were not the only artists of conversation among 
birds. Parrots brought from India, with green bodies and 
vermilion necks, would salute emperors and bid them good 
morning. Parrots loved wine, and after drinking freely would 
be very pleasant, playful and wanton. The method of training 
these birds to talk was somewhat drastic, "She has a head as 
hard as her beak. When she learns to speak she must be 
beaten about the head with a rod of iron; otherwise she cares 
for no blows. When she takes her flight from any place "she 
lights upon her bill and by resting on it makes her weight 
lighter for her feet which are naturally weak and feeble" a 
very realistic and ingenious piece of observation. 1 

The magpie was also a good linguist, taking great delight 
and pleasure in learning new phrases, although apt to be 
forgetful. These birds were known to have died from grief 
at having failed to pronounce some of the harder words. 

"The Empress Agrippina had a Blackbird or a thrush which could 
imitate man's speech; a thing never seen or known before* At the 
moment I am writing this the two young Caesars (the princes 
Germanicus and Drusus) have one Stare (starling) and some 
Nightingales, taught to speak Greek and Latin. They will study 
upon their lessons and meditate all day long, and from day to day 
come out with new words and be able to continue a long speech 
and discourse. To teach them properly these birds must be in a 
secret place by themselves where they can hear no other voice; 
and one must sit over them and repeat often what he would have 

1 According to Mandeville, in the East "popinjays** or **psittakes" were very 
fluent talkers (those at least with large tongues and five toes on their feet) for they 
would "salute men that go through the deserts and speak to them as apertly (openly) 
as though it were a man". The kind with only three toes could not talk at ail but only 
utter a cry. 


them learn, yea, and please them also by giving them such food as 
they best love/' [42] 

Aristotle and Pliny solved many problems of bird life and 
noted the fact that both birds and fishes were peculiarly sensi- 
tive to temperatures, especially when searching for the most 
suitable breeding grounds; in this way their regular migrations 
were accurately accounted for. It was a pardonable error to 
believe that many birds hibernated like bats and snakes, and 
lost their feathers while doing so, appearing as a consequence 
in the spring in a sadly bedraggled condition. This belief was 
common in England as late as the time at which Philemon 
Holland was translating. Richard Carew in his Survey of 
Cornwall (1602) speaks of swallows being found in deep tin 
works and holes in the cliffs and quotes an authority who 
said he found them under the ice in northern parts, frozen. 
When brought near a stove and warmed, they recovered. 

A quotation about Cranes, Storks and Swans contains an 
account of those curious people, the Pygmies. 

"The nation of the pretty Pigmies enjoys a truce and cessation 
from arms every year when the Cranes, who wage war with them, 
come into our countries. Indeed, if a man consider how far it is 
from here to the Levant sea it is a mighty great journey that they 
take and their flight exceedingly long. They do not set forth 
without first calling a council and a general consent. They fly 
high because they have a better prospect to see before them. For 
this purpose they choose a captain to conduct them whom the rest 
follow. Certain are posted in the rear to signal by cries for them, 
to keep their ranks close together in array; and this they do by 
turns. They maintain a set watch all the night long and have their 
sentinels who stand on one foot and hold a little stone with the 
other which, if they should chance to sleep, would drop from it 
and awaken them, reproving them for their negligence. While 
these watch, all the rest sleep, couching their heads under their 
wings, standing first on one leg and then on the other. The Captain 
with head erect signals to the rest what is to be done. These Cranes 
if they are made tame and gentle, are very playful and wanton 
birds and they will one by one dance (as it were) in a circle with 
their long shanks stalking full awkwardly. It is well known that 



when they intend to take a flight over die Euxine they will fly 
direct to the narrow straits between the two capes Criu-Metophon 
and Carambis, and then they ballast themselves with stones in their 
feet and sand in their throats so that they fly more steady and endure 
the wind. When they are half-way over they fling down die stones 
and as soon as they come to die continent they disgorge the sand 
from their throats. 

"Up to the present time it is not known whence the Storks 
come or whither they go. No doubt they visit us from far countries 
in the same way as the Cranes do; only die difference is that the 
Cranes are our guests in Winter and the Storks in Summer. When 
they intend to depart from our coasts they assemble in one place 
and not one is left out, unless it be some that are not at liberty but 
captive and in bondage. Then they all rise in one entire company 
and away they fly. And although it might be well known that they 
were on the move, yet no one (watch he ever so well) has ever 
seen them in their flight; nor do we at any time see them coming 
to us before we know that they have already come. The reason is 
that they do the one and the odier always by night There is a 
place in the open plains and champion country of Asia, called 
Pithonos-Come; where (by report) they assemble all together, and 
being met, keep a jangling one with another. In the end, if any lag 
behind and come tardy, they tear him to pieces and then depart 

"Wild Geese and Swans are passengers from country to country 
after the same manner; but then they are observed when they fly. 
They make way forcibly in a pointed squadron, as it were the stem 
of a foist (galley) at sea, armed with a sharp beak head (for by this 
means they cut the air better than if they drove it in front with a 
straight, even a square front). And thus wedge-wise little by little 
they spread broader and broader behind, and so gather more wind 
to heave them up and set them forward. In this flight of theirs they 
rest their necks on diose that go before and as soon as any leading 
the way is weary with bearing his head he retires behind to ease 
himself upon the bird flying just in front Storks keep one nest 
from year to year and never change, and they are of such a kind 
disposition that the young will keep and feed their parents when 
they are old, as they themselves were nourished by them in the 

"Some say that the Swans sing lamentably just before their 
death; but untruly, I suppose, for my experience with several has 
showed the contrary." [43] 



It is surprising to find swallows, instead of pigeons, carry- 
ing messages for their owners, 

"Caecina of Volaterrae, a gentleman of Rome, and a racehorse 
owner, used to bring with him to the city a number of these 
Swallows which he had got from his friends* houses where they 
were bred. And when his horses won the race he would take the 
birds and paint them with that colour which betokened victory 
and so with that livery (as it were) let them fly to his friends to 
carry tidings to them of the good success which he had obtained, 
knowing right well that every one would home to the same nest 
from whence they came. Fabius Pictor also relates in his Annals 
that when a fort (which the Roman garrison held) was besieged by 
the Ligurians, there was a she-Swallow, newly taken from her 
young ones, brought to him with this watchword that by a linen 
thread tied to her foot instead of a letter he should let them know, 
by so many knots tied in the said thread, on what day aid would 
arrive to the end that they also might be ready upon that day to 
sally forth." [44] 

Pliny bestows the highest praise on the Game Cock and 
the Dunghill Cock as the bravest of all birds and also as the 
most indispensable for the conduct of affairs, because no 
action of importance could be taken in hand without consult- 
ing the auguries. 

"Next after Peacocks the birds about our house, which are 
sentinels by night and whom Nature has created to break men of 
their sleep, to awaken and call them up to their work, have also a 
sense and understanding of glory. They love (I say) to be praised 
and are proud in their kind. Moreover, they are Astronomers and 
know the course of the stars. They divide the day by their crowing, 
every three hours. When the Sun goes to rest, they go to roost and 
like sentinels they will not suffer the sun to rise and steal upon us 
without giving us warning beforehand. By their Growings they 
tell us that the day is coming and prelude their crowing by clapping 
their sides with their wings. 

"They are commanders and rulers of their own kind, be they 
Hens or Cocks. Their sovereignty is got by plain fighting, as if 
they knew that they had spurs (as weapons) given them about 
their heels to try the quarrel. Many times the combat is so sharp and 


hot that they kill one another ere they give over. If one of them 
happens to be conqueror, he crows immediately upon victory and 
himself sounds the triumph. He that is beaten makes no words 
nor crows at all, but hides his head in silence. Yet it goes against 
his stomach to yield the gauntlet and give the bucklers. The 
common sort of the dunghill are just as proud as these game 
cocks; they march stately, carrying their neck bolt upright., with a 
comb on their head like the crest of a soldier's helmet And there 
is not a bird that so often looks aloft to the sun and the sky; and 
then up goes the tail withal, which he bears on high turning 
backward like a sickle. And so it is that, marching thus proudly 
as they do, the very Lions (which of all wild beasts are the most 
courageous) stand in fear and awe of them and will not abide the 
sight of them. 

"Some of these Cocks are made for nothing else but war and 
fighting and are never well except in quarrels, brawls and frays; 
and the countries that breed them grow to great renown, such as, 
in the highest degree, Rhodes and Tanagra, The next rank belongs 
to those of Melos and Chalcis. The purple robe at Rome and all 
magistrates of State do not disdain to give honour to these birds 
for their worth and dignity. It is from their hearty feeding, observed 
by the pullitiers, that good fortune is denoted. They rule our 
great rulers every day. There is not a mighty Lord of Rome that 
dares open or shut the door of his house before he knows the good 
pleasure of these fowls. What is more, the sovereign magistrate 
in his majesty of the Roman Empire, with the regal ensigns of 
rods and axes carried before him, neither sets forth nor comes back 
without direction from these birds. They give orders to whole 
armies to go forth to battle: they again command them to stay 
within the camp. It was they who gave the signal and foretold 
the issue of all those famous fought fields by which we have 
achieved all our victories throughout the whole world. In a word, 
these birds command the great commanders of all nations upon 
the earth, the small fibres and filaments of their insides being as 
acceptable to the gods in sacrifice as the greatest and fattest oxen/* 


Finally, a note about the cramming and cooking of poultry 
as practised in Italy and Greece, which suggests the Surrey 
Fowl. 1 

1 Mention of the custom of cramming fowls reminds one of the mention of an 



"The people of Delos were the first to cram Hens and Pullin. 
With them began the detestable gluttony of eating Hens and Capons 
fattened and larded with their own grease. An act made eleven 
years before the third Punic war expressly prohibited the serving 
at table of more than one Hen, and that a runner and not fed up 
and crammed fat. A method however was devised to escape the 
meaning thereof, by feeding Cocks and Capons with a paste 
soaked in milk and mead, to make their flesh more tender, delicate 
and of sweeter taste; because the letter of the statute extended only 
to Hens or Pullets. As for the Hens, only those are thought good 
and sufficiently crammed which are fat about the neck and have 
their skin plump and soft there. However our fine cooks then 
began to choose them by the appearance of the hind parts. And 
to make a better show in the platter they slit them along the chine 
and lay out their legs so as to take up the whole dresser board. 
The Parthians also have taught our cooks their fashions. And yet 
for all this fine dressing and setting out of dishes there is nothing 
that pleases and contents the tooth of man in every respect; for 
one likes nothing but the leg and another will only praise the white 
meat about the breast-bone. So it is that we have begun to keep 
fowls within narrow coops and cages as prisoners, creatures to 
whom Nature has allowed the wide air for their scope and habita- 
tion/' [46] 

early form of public incubators which occurs in Mandeville's Travels. In Cairo, it 
appears, "there is a common house that is full of small furnaces, and thither bring 
women of the town their eyren of hens, of geese, and of ducks for to be put into these 
furnaces. And they that keep that house cover them with heat of horse dung, without 
hen, goose or duck or any other fowl. And at the end of three weeks or of a month 
they come again and take their chickens and nourish them and bring them forth, 
so that all the country is full of them. And so men do there both winter and summer". 

Of Fishes 

IN any book dealing with ancient natural history one may 
expect to find a number of fish stories which as a class of 
anecdote are proverbially unreliable, even in modern times. 
Nor is one altogether disappointed in finding a few examples 
of evident exaggeration in the easy discursive method of 
Pliny. Why stories of fishes especially should be so liable to 
error is not altogether clear; but it would be a grave charge to 
impute to the early writers any wish to be deliberately un- 
truthful. What Dr. Glover says of Herodotus applies equally 
to Pliny: "Any one who will read Herodotus till he knows 
him with real intimacy will find it hard to hear with patience 
the suggestion that he is other than the most candid and truth- 
ful of men." 

The fact is that the ocean has always been noted for incred- 
ible things as Shakespeare says, "th* imperious seas breed 
monsters" and the further we go into the gloomy depths 
under present methods of research, the more alarming and 
incredible are the creatures that are revealed. Magna Mentis 
Natum varietas, said Pliny, and this applied particularly to the 
deep waters, "ready to receive from the heavens above the 
genital seeds and causes of generation." In this belief that the 
great breeding ground of Nature was the ocean, Pliny accepted 
the teaching of Anaximander, who held that water was the 
great causal principle and that all living creatures owed their 
origin to a kind of primordial procreation in the mud. There 
is little difference between this theory and Haldane's concep- 
tion of a primordial ocean of the consistency of dilute hot 
soup, which forms, according to his theory, a kind of border- 



land, or starting-off place, between Inanimate and living 
matter in the earliest stages of creation. 

Just as the elephants held a pre-eminent position amongst 
the animals, so the whales (incorrectly classed among the 
fishes) were reputed the most impressive denizens of the 
ocean. One kind, to be found in the "French Ocean", was 
called a Physeter, or blower. It rose aloft out of the sea like a 
column or pillar, higher than the sails of a vessel. Then it 
spouted u a mighty deal of water, as it were, out of a conduit, 
enough to drown and sink a ship". 

The fights between the Balaenae and the Orcae are graphi- 
cally described; also a fight between an Orca and an armed 
land force of men. The Belaenae were seen off the Spanish 
coast, near Gades, the ancient Cadiz: 

"At their set times they He close in a certain calm deep and large 
creek in which they choose to cast their spawn and there delight 
above all places to breed. The Orcae, other monstrous fishes, know 
this full well and are deadly enemies. I can compare them with 
nothing but a mighty mass and lump of flesh, armed with most 
terrible sharp and cutting teeth. Well, these being aware that the 
Whales are there break into this secret creek, seek them out, and 
if they meet with either the young ones or the darns they cut and 
hack them with their trenchant teeth; yea, they run against them 
as it were a foist (galley) or ship of war armed with sharp brazen 
pikes in the beak-head. On the other hand, the Whales that cannot 
turn aside for defence, much less make head and resist, so unwieldy 
are they from their heavy body, have no other means of succour 
than to shoot into the deep and gain sea room to defend themselves 
from the enemy. On the other hand the Orcae do all in their power 
to lie in the way between them and home, and kill them in the 
straits or drive them on the shallows or else force them against the 
rocks and so bruise them. When these fights are witnessed, the 
sea seems as if angry with itself. There may be not a breath of 
wind, yet you will see waves where they encounter (with the blasts 
of their breath and the blows given*i>y the assailant) greater than 
any tempestuous whirlwinds could raise. 

"An Orca was discovered in the haven of Ostia where it was 
assailed by Claudius the Emperor. It chanced to come as he was 
constructing the harbour or pier, drawn thither by the sweetness 



of certain beasts' hides that were brought out of Gaul and had been 
thrown overboard there. For several days she had fed on these 
and the weight of her body had made a channel (as it were) in the 
shallow water. By reason of the flowing of the sea she was so 
invested with the sands that she could not turn round. Still going 
after these hides on which she fed she was cast afloat on the shore 
by the billows of the sea, so that her back was to be seen above 
the water, very like the bottom or keel of a ship turned upside 
down. Then the Emperor ordered great nets and cords to be drawn 
along the mouth of the haven on each side behind the fish, while 
he himself with the Pretorian cohorts came against this monstrous 
fish, to show a pleasant sight to the people of Rome, and the 
soldiers out of many hoies and barks launched showers of darts 
and javelins. I myself saw one boat sunk by the abundance of 
water which this monstrous fish spouted; for the Whales have a 
mouth or great hole in their forehead and as they swim on the 
surface they send up on high (as it were) with a mighty strong 
breath a great quantity of water like storms of rain/* [47] 

What most attracted the attention of the ancients as a 
significant fact about the sea was the curious imitative quality 
of Nature, as seen In her various similitudes of things on 
land such as grapes, saws, swords and vegetables. Marvell 
expressed the same idea when he spoke of 

"that ocean where each kind 
Does straight its own resemblance find." 

The sea-" cowcumber" (as the cucumber always used to be 
pronounced in polite society) was a typical instance. Another 
good example was the lobster, the "Locust of the Sea", so 
called because in appearance it might be taken as an enlarge- 
ment, or sea-modification, of the locust or grasshopper. 

The same principle extended to sea-dogs (sharks) sea- 
elephants, sea-horses, sea-lions and sea-tigers. There were 
also sea-wolves (sturgeon), sea-thrushes (probably bream), sea- 
blackbirds, sea-nettles (the stinging jelly-fish), sea-rams which 
were very dangerous to swimmers^ sea-sparrows (probably 
plaice) and many others. Nomenclature was a particularly 
difficult problem in olden time; nor was this surprising, con- 



sideling that the only and obvious method of distinction be- 
tween the varieties was to think of some good nickname. For 
a nickname is actually a resemblance-name. We, too, have 
our rabbit-fishes (a passable imitation), elephant-fish, cat- and 
wolf-fish and many others, names either inherited or wittily 

With Aristotle and Pliny fish were, on, the whole, of a 
greater interest than land animals, since the Mediterranean 
was such a copious and convenient field for observation. 
Aristotle was born in a seaport on the Black Sea and managed 
to keep in touch with fishermen all his life* He therefore had 
a first-hand knowledge of the innumerable varieties of fish 
that abounded in these prolific waters. The truth of some of 
his observations (the generation and habits of the octopus is 
one conspicuous example) has been established only within 
recent years an astonishing proof of the accuracy of some 
of his inferences. Charles Darwin, in acknowledging a 
translation of Aristotle, made the remark that "from quotations 
which I have seen, I had a high notion of Aristotle's merits, 
but I had not the most remote notion what a wonderful man 
he was. Linnasus and Cuvier have been my two gods, though 
in different ways, but they were mere schoolboys to old 
Aristotle." This was a compliment indeed. Pliny, too, had 
the profoundest respect for this great teacher, and describes 
him as "a man whom I cannot name but with greaLkonour 
and reverence, and whom in the history and report of these 
matters I mean for the most part to follow". 1 

The main reason for the attraction of the sea naturally lay 
in the fact that it was such an exceptional place for marvels. 
The ancient quite as much as the modern world was inspired 
by the desire to discover the rare and unusual anything of 
a record nature in those watery places 

1 A reference to Aristotle's birthplace In Mandeville's Travels probably has some 
truth in it as a tradition. He says that Aristotle was born at Stagyra in Thrace and 
that "there is an altar upon his tomb. And there make rnen great feasts for him every 
year, as though he were a saint. And at his altar they holden their great councils 
and their assemblies, and they hope that through inspiration of God and of him they 
shall have the better council". 



"Where He the huge sea-monsters wracks, 
That lift the deep upon their backs." 

Whales were sometimes reported to take up as much room as 
four acres of land, Pristes, a species of whale, were sometimes 
two hundred cubits long; eels in the Ganges thirty foot; tunnies 
went about in such multitudes that Alexander the Great on 
seeing them approach, like an army of enemies, had to bring 
his armada against them in close formation. Between Portugal 
and Andalusia there was a monstrous fish seen (suggesting a 
giant octopus) resembling a mighty great tree, spreading 
abroad such enormous arms that it was incapable of entering 
the straits of Gibraltar. Also, M. Scauras, when ^Edile at 
Rome, exhibited to the people the bones of the sea monster 
"before which lady Andromeda (it is said) was cast to be 
devoured". The bones were forty feet in length and the ribs 
deeper than an Indian elephant was high, and the ridge bone 
a foot and a half thick. 

Then there were other curious inventions of Nature. The 
Tritons and Mermaids, as we have seen ? were the denizens of 
the ocean that most nearly approached humanity; the Nautilus 
was Nature's sailing boat; the flying fish her birds; and the 
Dolphins her musicians and men's best playfellows. 

Of the dolphin many delightful stories are told: 

"He is a creature that has a loving affection not only for man 
but also for music. He is delighted with harmony in song, and 
especially with the sound of the water-instrument, or such kind of 
pipes. "He is not afraid of a man, nor avoids him as a stranger. He 
comes to meet ships, plays and disports himself and fetches a 
thousand frisks and gambols before them. He will swim along by 
tlfcie mariners, as it were for a wager to see which should make way 
the speediest, and always passes them even if they sail with ever 
so good a fore-wind. 

"In the days of Augustus Cassar there was a Dolphin which 
entered the lake of Lucrinus and loved wondrous well a certain 
boy, a poor man's son. This boy went every day to school from 
Baia* to Puteoli and was wont about noontime to stay at the 
water's edge and to call to the Dolphin *Simo, Simo*. Many times 
he would give him fragments of bread which he brought on pur- 



pose and by this means allured the Dolphin to come ordinarily to 
him at his call (I would scruple to insert this tale in my story, but 
that M. Fabianus, F. Alfius, and many others have set it down for 
a truth in their Chronicles.) Well, in process of time at whatever 
hour of the day this boy lured for him and called 'Simo*, out would 
come the Dolphin, were he ever so closely hidden in any blind 
corner, and swim amain to this lad; and taking bread and other 
victuals at his hand, would gently offer him his back to mount 
upon, and then down went the sharp pointed pricks of his fins 
which he would put up as it were within a sheath for fear of hurting 
the boy. Thus when he had him on his back, he would carry him 
over the broad arm of the sea as far as Puteoli to school, and in like 
manner convey him back again home. Thus he continued for many 
years together so long as the child lived. But when the boy was 
fallen sick and dead the Dolphin as usual came to the same place 
and, missing the lad, seemed to be heavy and mourn again until 
for very grief and sorrow he also was found dead upon the shore. 
"There was another Dolphin not many years since upon the 
coast of Africa, near Hippo, which in like manner would feed from 
a man's hand, suffer himself to be gently handled, play with those 
that bathed in the sea and carry on his back whoever would get 
upon it. Now it happened that Flavianus the Proconsul in Africa 
perfumed and smeared this Dolphin with a sweet ointment But 
the fish (as it would seem) smelling the new and strange smell, fell 
to be drowsy and sleepy and hulled to and fro with the waves as if 
it had been half-dead, and as though some injury had been offered 
to him, went his way and kept aloof and would not converse any 
more for months with men as before. However in the end he came 
again to Hippo, to the great wonder and astonishment of all that 
saw him. At last the vexations caused by having to entertain the 
great persons and lords who used to come to see this sight caused 
the men of Hippo to kill the poor Dolphin. 1 

1 A fuller version of this story in the Younger Pliny's Letters is worth quoting 

"A friend was telling me of a town in one of our African colonies, named Hippo, 
close by the sea. Near it is a lagoon from which an estuary runs out to sea. The 
inhabitants love fishing, boating and swimming particularly the boys. Their 
ambition is to swim out as far as possible. The boy who swims the farthest and 
fastest is acclaimed their champion. 

"One of them, bolder than the rest, was swimming far out to sea, when a dolphin 
appeared which swam in circles around him and finally took him on his back. Then 
he let him go again, took him on his back once more and bore the trembling lad 
seawards. At last he turned towards the shore and restored him to dry land. 

"The news spread through the town. The people flocked out and looked upon 



"A similar story is told in the city of lassos, for a Dolphin there 
was seen to affect a certain boy so that he would come to him 
wherever he chanced to espy him. But one time that he followed 
eagerly after the lad going towards the town, he shot himself upon 
the dry sands before he was aware and died forthwith. In view 
of this Alexander the Great ordained that this young boy should 
afterwards be the chief priest and sacrificer to Neptune in Babylon, 
interpreting the singular fancy that this Dolphin cast upon him 
as a great sign of the special love of that god of the sea to him and 
that he would be good and gracious to men for his sake. 

"Egesidemus writes that in lassos there was another boy named 
Hermius who used to ride upon a Dolphin over the sea and 
chanced at last in a sudden storm to be overwhelmed with waves 
as he sat upon his back, and so died and was brought back dead 
by the Dolphin who, confessing himself the cause of his death, 
would never retire again into the sea, but lay himself upon the 
sands and there died on dry land. 

"There is no end of examples of this kind. The Amphilochians 
and Tarentines testify to dolphins being enamoured of little boys, 

the boy as a prodigy. They questioned him, heard his story and repeated it to every- 
body they met. 

"The next day large numbers swarmed on the shore and gazed out to sea. The 
boys swam about as usual- the hero of the story a little more cautiously than the 
others. Again the dolphin appeared and made for the boy who fled with his com- 
panions. The dolphin, to attract his attention, leapt out of the water, dived, twisted 
this way and that and played every manner of antic. 

"The same thing happened the next day and the next, until the people, so accus- 
tomed to the sea, became ashamed of their fears. They approached the dolphin, 
called him pet names and even stroked him. And the boy who first became acquainted 
with him would swim alongside, jump on his back and be carried to and fro as 
much in love with the dolphin as he believed the dolphin was in love with him. 

"Other boys, too, swam with their friend and egged him on. What was most 
astonishing was that another dolphin appeared but only as a spectator or attendant. 
He would allow no liberties to be taken with him. He merely led the other as a kind 
of escort just as the other boys did their leader. You would scarcely believe it - 
still it is perfectly true but the dolphin, that played with the lad, would often leave 
the sea and dry himself on the sands. When he was thoroughly warm he would roll 
back into the sea. 

"Octavius Avitus, the Pro-consular Legate, by some strange superstition was 
led to pour ointment on him on one occasion when he lay on the shore* But the 
dolphin was so upset by the action and the curious smell that he betook himself to 
the deep and was not seen for several days after. When he appeared again lie was 
dull and listless; still he soon regained his spirits, became quite frisky once more and 
did his usual tricks. 

*'Ali the officials of the province used to come and see the sight. There was so 
much coming and going that the town began to lose its quiet retired character* So 
it was decided to put an end, on the quiet, to the poor innocent creature who had 
been the cause of all the excitement,** 


which induces me rather to believe the tale of Arion. This Anon, 
being a notable musician and player of the harp, chanced to fall in 
the hands of certain mariners in the ship in which he was. They, 
supposing he had good store of money about him which he had 
gotten with his instrument, were about to cast him overboard 
for the said money when he, seeing himself at their mercy, besought 
them in the best manner lie could devise to suffer him before he 
died to play one fit of mirth with his harp. This they granted and 
a number of dolphins came flocking about him at his music and 
sound of the harp. Then the sailors turned him over shipboard 
into the sea; whereupon one of the dolphins took him upon his 
back and carried him safe to the bay of Taenarum." [48] 

The nautilus anticipated the modern submarine, and at the 
same time could disport itself as a sailing ship. 

"This fish, in order to rise to the surface, turns upon his back 
and heaves himself up little by little; to swim with more ease he 
discharges all the water within him (bilge-water, as it were) from 
a pipe. After this, turning up his two fore claws or arms he displays 
and stretches out between them a membrane or skin of a wonderful 
thinness. This serves him instead of a sail in the air above water. 
"With the rest of his arms or claws he rows and labours under water, 
and with his tail directs his course and steers as it were with a 
helm. Thus he makes way in the sea with a fair show of a foist, or 
galley, under sail. Now if he is afraid of anything in the way he 
makes no more ado than to draw in water to ballast his body and 
so plunges down and sinks to the bottom. 

"Mutianus tells another tale of a fish he saw in Propontis which 
carried, as it were, a ship of his own and made sail with it like some 
galley. It was a shell-fish, fashioned with a keel like a barge, with 
a poop embowed and turned up and armed in the prow with a 
three-forked pike. Within this (so he says) lay hidden another 
living creature resembling a Cuttle-fish, for no other reason in the 
world than to make sport and play with it for company. If it was 
a calm sea and the winds down, the passenger would put down 
his feet into the water like oars and row with them. But if a gale 
of wind was aloft he would make them serve instead as a helm to 
steer with. Then the shell-fish would spread and display itself like 
sails to gather wind; so that the pleasure of one was to carry the 
other in a vessel, while the other had his delight in working the 
ship and directing it like a pilot." [49] 

H 97 


Also Pliny noted certain fish that left their native element, 
thus emulating the aeroplane. Not only were there the flying 
fish, but the tunny and sword-fish would leap out of the water 
and sometimes come aboard a passing vessel when tortured 
by a creature "somewhat like a scorpion and as big as a spider" 
that fastened on them. On one occasion Augustus was walking 
along the shore at the time of the Sicilian war when a fish 
leapt out of the sea and fell at his feet. This was taken as a 
happy augury of victory. The lords of the sea, it was foretold, 
would be on the side of Caesar; and so it proved. 

Pliny's classification of fishes is roughly and readily arranged 
according to their coverings. Some had a hairy skin over 
them, such as the Seals and Water-horses. Others had only 
a bare skin, as smooth as that of the Dolphins. There were 
those with a shell like a bark, such as the Tortoise; in others 
the shell was as hard as the flint, like the Oysters, Mussels, 
Cockles and "Winkles. Some, again, were covered with "crusts 
or hard pills", like the Locusts (lobsters): others with sharp 
pricks, like the Sea Urchins. Some were scaled, as fishes; 
others rough-coated, as the Soles, the skins of which craftsmen 
used to polish and smooth wood and ivory. Some had a tender 
and soft skin, as Lampreys and eels; others none at all, as the 
Pourcuttle, or cuttle-fish. It is to be noted that it was well 
known that the whales and sea-calves, or seals, brought forth 
their young alive. That they were originally mammals which 
had taken to the water as the easier method of procuring food 
one of the most amazing facts of natural history had not 
yet suggested itself. 

Turtles, or "tortoises", in the Indian sea were reported so 
large that their shells could be used either for cabins or for 
boats and wherries. 

The way of catching turtles was to find them asleep on the 
surface. Then three men would swim out, two to turn him 
on his back and the third to put a rope round him, by which 
he was towed to the land. Tortoise shell was cut into thin 
leaves and used to veneer beds, tables, cupboards and presses 
at Rome an invention by Carvilius Pollio which Pliny, ever 



on the alert to criticise anything new, considered a luxury lead- 
ing to "riotous and superfluous expense 5 *. 

The mystery of pearls was never solved. The explanation 
given was that they were a kind of fruit, the product of a dew 
which according to its quality affected the colour of the pearl. 
If the dew was pure and clear, then the pearls were white, 
fair and orient; if gross and troubled, the pearls were dim, 
foul and duskish "pale (I say) if the water is close, dark or 
threatening rain in the time of their conception. From which 
it is plain that they participate more of the air and sky than the 
water and the sea". The "curst Sea-dogs", or sharks, were the 
greatest danger to the pearl-divers. They were believed to 
have a secret understanding with the pearl-fish and always to 
accompany them into deep water as a body-guard. 

In the story about Cleopatra's stratagem, we may infer 
from a passage elsewhere that the pearls she was wearing were 
long and pear-shaped. But it seems a pity for the sake of the 
story that pearls do not dissolve in ordinary vinegar. 

"Our dames take a great pride in having them not only hanging 
at their fingers, but also two or three of them pendant together 
at their ears. They call them Crotalia (or cymbals), as if they took 
a delight in hearing the sound of their pearls rattling together. 
Nowadays, too, it has come to this pass that poor men's wives 
affect to wear them because they would be thought rich; and it is 
a byword among them that a fair pearl at a woman's ear is as good 
in the street as an usher or lictor, for every one will give way to 
such a proud lady. Nay, our gentlewomen are come to wear them 
upon their feet and not at their shoe latchets only, but also upon 
their startops (shoes) and fine buskins which they garnish all over 
with pearl. For it will not satisfy them to carry pearls about them, 
but they must tread among pearls and walk, as it were, on a pave- 
ment of pearls. 

"I myself have seen Lollia Paulina, widow of Caligula, when 
she was going to nothing more important than a wedding supper, 
so beset and bedecked all over with emeralds and pearls, disposed 
in rows, ranks and courses one after another, round about the 
attire of her hair, her neck, her borders, her peruke of hair, her 
bongrace and chaplet, at her ears pendant, about her neck in a 



carcanet (necklace), upon her wrists in bracelets and on her fingers 
in rings; so that she glittered and shone again like the sun as she 
went. The value of these ornaments she rated at forty million of 
sesterces. Yet these jewels were not the gifts of the prodigal prince 
her husband but inherited from her grandfather, which he had got 
together by the robbing and spoiling of whole provinces. See the 
end of all those extortions and outrageous exactions! M. Lollius 
for receiving bribes and presents of the Kings in the East lost the 
favour of Caius Caesar and drank a cup of poison only, forsooth, 
for his niece Lollia to be hanged with jewels worth forty million 
sesterces and to be seen glittering and looked at by everyone by 
candlelight all a supper time! 

"Nor is this the greatest example of excessive riot and prodi- 
gality. There were formerly only two Pearls, the fairest and richest 
that have ever been known in the world; and these belonged at one 
time to Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt. This princess, when 
M. Antonius had feasted her day by day most sumptuously and 
spared no cost in the height of her pride and wanton bravery (as 
being a noble courtesan and a queen withal), began to make little 
of the expense and provision of Antony. When he demanded how 
it was possible to go beyond this magnificence of his, she answered 
that she would spend in one supper ten millions of sesterces. 
Antony (for he thought it was impossible) laid a great wager with 
her about it and she made it good. The morrow after, when this 
was to b2 tried and the wager either to be won or lost, Cleopatra 
made Antony a supper which was sumptuous or royal enough. 
However, there was no extraordinary service upon the board, at 
which Antony laughed her to scorn and by way of mockery asked 
to see a bill with the amount of the particulars. She answered that 
what had been served already was but a trifle of the real banquet 
and that she would yet in that supper make up the full sum, yea, 
she herself would eat beyond that reckoning, and her own supper 
should cost sixty million sesterces. With that she commanded the 
second service to be brought in. The servitors that waited at her 
trencher set before her one cruet of sharp vinegar, the strength of 
which is able to resolve pearls. Now she had hanging at her ears 
those two most precious pearls, the singular and only jewels of 
the world. As Antony looked wistly upon her and wondered what 
she would do, she took one of them from her ear, steeped it in 
the vinegar, and as soon as it was liquified drank it off. As she was 



about to do the like by the other, L. Plancius, the judge of that 
wager, laid fast hold upon it with his hand and pronounced that 
Antony had lost the wager. 

"There was the end of one pearl, but the fame of the fellow-pearl 
is equal to it. For after this brave queen, the winner of so great a 
wager, was taken prisoner and deprived of her royal estate, that 
other pearl was cut in twain in order that in memory of that one 
half-supper of theirs it should remain unto posterity, hanging at 
both the ears of Venus at Rome in the Pantheon." [50] 

The sea serpent was of course a highly distinguished sea- 
monster. We come across several varieties. One kind was a 
fish that came to the surface of the water and waggled its 
tongue, which flamed and burned like fire and, when the 
nights were calm and still, gave out a shining light. Coleridge 
was inspired by similar stories to write: 

"Beyond the shadow of the ship, 
I watched the water-snakes: 
They moved in tracks of shining white; 
And when they reared, the elfish light 
Fell off in hoary flakes." 

Another kind had horns almost a foot and a half long. When 
it was caught and let loose on land it very quickly scrabbled 
a hollow in the ground with its snout. (Something of the sort 
has been reported from Loch Ness.) Certain species of land- 
fishes were also stated to come out of the sea in the neighbour- 
hood of Babylon, to graze in the meadows, waddling along 
with their fins instead of feet, and wagging their tails as they 
went. 1 

1 Matthew Arnold seems to have used the same local colour in his poem, The 
Forsaken Merman: 

Sand-strewn caverns, cool and deep, 
Where the winds are all asleep; 
Where the spent lights quiver and gleam; 
Where the salt weed sways in the stream; 
Where the sea-beasts, ranged all round, 
Feed in the ooze of their pasture-ground; 
Where the sea-snakes coil and twine, 
Dry their mail and bask in the brine; 
Where great whales come sailing by, 
Sail and Sail, with unshut eye, 
Round the world for ever and aye. 


Crabs were odd creatures. When alarmed they could go 
backwards as fast as they could move forwards, and they 
fought like rams, butting at each other with their horns. 
When the sun passed through their own special sign of 
Cancer, their dead bodies could be seen lying on the shore 
ready to be turned into serpents. 

There seem to have been many connecting links between 
snakes and fishes, especially in the case of the eels. One strik- 
ing example was the "worm" that haunted the Ganges (prob- 
ably confused with a boa, or python) said to be sixty cubits 
long, with two gills, azure in colour and so powerful that 
with its teeth it could seize the trunks of elephants coming 
down to drink and drag them into the water. 

Lampreys and eels, Pliny tells us, wind and wiggle with 
their bodies within the water and "so erch (arch) forward as 
serpents do on the earth. They creep also when they are on 
dry land and live longer than the rest out of the water." 
Elvers returning from the breeding grounds in the depths of 
the Atlantic (although Pliny was of course unaware of the 
fact), were observed in the entrances of rivers. "On a winter 
night, when there is storm and tempest, a man will see rolling 
among the waves a wonderful number of these eels, wound 
and entangled one with another, so much so that in the nets 
devised to catch them there are found sometimes a thousand 
of them wrapped together in one great ball." 

The red mullet was a great table delicacy. It is curious to 
read that it could not bear to be laughed at, and hid its head 
in the sand (imitating the ostrich), at the bottom of the water, 
from excessive self-consciousness. The more decorative 
scaurus (parrot-fish) was also a favourite dish. A fish not 
chosen primarily for its appearance was the muraena, a coarse- 
looking eel, raised in specially constructed tanks and specially 
fattened for the table. Then there was the cray-fish, "the 
locust of the sea", from which the French langouste is derived; 
lampreys "bred in certain lakes about the Alps"; and the 
barbel As an example of the callous spirit of the Romans the 
barbel was carried about in globes of glass so that it could be 



seen changing colour as it died. 1 

The tunny fishing was a very considerable and profitable 
Mediterranean industry, as it still is. The earliest sailors of 
real commercial enterprise came from Tyre and Sidon and 
traded along the neighbouring coasts their ships 

"Freighted with amber grapes and Chian wine 
Green bursting figs, and tunnies steeped in brine.'* 

These were the commonest and earliest articles of barter. 
The tunny was responsible for the name of the " Golden 
Horn" because of the golden harvest derived from this mag- 
nificent mackerel. Shoals of them were frightened by the sight 
of a white rock which shone from the bottom of the sea and 
caused them to swerve across to the cape opposite Byzantium. 
Tunny fishing was not regarded in the least as an art or sport: 
indeed the most commonplace and businesslike way of landing 
a big fish was adopted. Sometimes a fish would be found 
weighing a thousand pounds; then it was taken with a great 
hook linked to a chain ? and dragged out of the river with 
yokes of oxen a very different affair from the modern rod 
and line. The tunny ranked as the largest fish that was eatable. 
The choicest pieces were near the throat, the inferior near the 
tail Mackerel, which belong to the same family., were chiefly 
supplied to the fish markets of Spain. 2 

The last word in sea-monsters was that frightful creature 
the octopus, or many-footed fish: 

"I must not omit the reports of Trebius Niger, one of the retinue 
of L. Lucullus Proconsul of Baetica, as touching these Many-feet 

1 PHny says that Fenestella called barbels "Mulli", because they resembled in 
colour "certain moyles or fine shoes". Seneca takes this fashion as the last word in 
degeneracy. "Suffer me", he says, "here to lay aside my subject, and to apply the 
scourge to luxury! Commend me for a beautiful sight, says one, to an expiring 
mullet. In the death struggle, as its life ebbs away, first a ruddy glow, then a pallor 
suffuses it. How symmetrical are the variations as it changes from tint to tint between 
life and death! Our somnolent, jaded luxury gets a long respite by means of this. 
Hitherto only fishermen have been able to enjoy this grand and beauteous sight. 
But why should we at the banquet be satisfied with a cooked, a lifeless fish! Let him 
expire on the very tray." 

2 A great deal of dried fish was exported from the Black Sea. Aristophanes 
made jokes about it, very much as the kipper is a vehicle of much of our own popular 



fishes called Polypi: namely, that they are most greedy of cockles, 
mussels and suchlike shell-fishes which, as soon as they feel them- 
selves touched by the Polypes, shut their shells hard and so cut 
off the arms that had got within, and thus they feed on those who 
sought to make a prey of them. These Polypi foreseeing this lie 
in wait to spy when the fish gape wide open and put in a little stone 
between the shells; thus they thieve and without any danger get 
out the fleshy substance of the meat to devour it. The poor cockles 
by reason of a wedge between cannot meet, close or come near 
together. See how subtle and crafty these creatures are, which 
otherwise are most sottish and senseless. Moreover, Trebius Niger 
affirms that there is not another beast or fish in the sea more danger- 
ous to do a man a mischief in the water; for if he chance to light 
upon any divers under the water or any that have suffered ship- 
wreck and are cast away, he assails them in this manner. He catches 
fast hold of them with his claws or arms, as if he would wrestle 
with them, and with the hollow concavities between keeps a sucking 
of them (as it were cupping glasses set to their bodies in diverse 
places) till in the end he draws them dry. The only remedy is 
to turn them on their back, and then they are soon done and their 
strength gone; for in that position they have no power to clasp or 
comprehend anything. 

"At Carteia there was one of these Polypi which often used to 
come out of the sea and enter some of the pickling-vats and rob 
them of their salt fish and so go his ways again. This he practised 
so long that in the end he roused the displeasure of the keepers of 
these cisterns with his continual and immeasurable filching. 
Whereupon they staked up the place and impailed it about to stop 
all passage thither. But this thief did not give over his accustomed 
haunt for all that, but managed to clamber over by a certain tree 
and so get to the salt fish. And he would never have been dis- 
covered had not the dogs by their quick scent found him out and 
bayed at him: for as he returned one night towards the sea they 
set on him and roused the keepers who were frightened at this 
sudden alarm, but more at the strange sight which they saw. 
First and foremost, this Polypus fish was of an immeasurable and 
incredible bigness; and besides, he was smeared and beraied (be- 
fouled) all over with the brine and pickles which made him hideous 
to look at and also to stink most strongly. Who would ever have 
looked for a Polypus there or recognised him by such marks as. 



these? Surely they thought they were dealing with some monster; 
for with his terrible blowing and breathing he drove away the 
dogs and at other times would lash and whip them with the ends 
of his long stringed winding feet. Sometimes he rapped and 
knocked them well and surely with his stronger claw-like arms, 
as it were with clubs. In short, he made such good shift for himself 
that only with much ado could they kill him, although he received 
many a wound by trout-spears which they launched at him. Well, 
in the end his head was brought to Lucullus for a wonder, and it 
was as big as a good round hogshead or barrel that would hold 
fifteen Amphorae. And his beards (for so Trebius called his claws 
and long-stringed feet) carried such a thickness and bulk with them 
that a man could hardly fathom one of them about with both his 
arms, such knockers they were, knobbed and knotted like clubs, 
and thirty foot long; and his teeth were answerable in proportion 
to the bigness of his body." [5 1] 


Of Insects 

BEES (which supplied the ancient equivalent of sugar), ants, 
silkworms, spiders (not strictly to be classed as insects), 
locusts, beetles and glow-worms are the chief of the smallest 
of creatures described by Pliny. Their study, it is urged, is 
not to be despised; for the insect, though a diminutive creature, 
was after all one of Nature's marvels: 

"Come to the Wood-worm, what manner of teeth has Nature 
given it to bore holes and eat into the very heart of hard oak! Who 
hears any sound that she makes while at her work? We make a 
wonder at the monstrous and mighty shoulders of Elephants, able 
to carry turrets upon them: we marvel at the strong and stiff necks 
of Bulls and to see how terribly they will take up things and toss 
them aloft into the air with their horns; we keep a- wondering at 
the ravening of Tigers and the shaggy manes of Lions: and yet in 
comparison of these Insects there is nothing in which Nature's 
power is more seen. I would request therefore the reader that in 
perusing this treatise he will not come with a prejudicate opinion 
nor (because many of these silly flies and worms are only contempt- 
ible in his eyes) disdain, loathe and contemn the reports that I 
shall make thereof, seeing there is nothing in Nature's works that 
may seem superfluous or unworthy our speculation." [52] 

Among the questions as yet unsolved was the doubt 
whether insects had blood or not. Also did they breathe, and 
had they bones? The ancients were at a disadavantage for 
answers to these questions in that they had no high magnify- 
ing glasses. Whether the glass globes used for fine engraving 
were employed in other directions is not known. 

"How in these little bodies (nay, pricks and specks rather than 
bodies) can one comprehend the reason, the power and the in- 

1 06 


explicable perfection that Nature has showed therein? How has she 
bestowed all the five senses in a Gnat? And yet there are smaller 
creatures than they. Where, I say, has she made the plan of the 
eyes to see before it? Where has she set and disposed the taste? 
Where has she placed and inserted the instrument and organ of 
smelling? And, above all, where has she disposed that dreadful 
noise that it makes, that wonderful great sound in proportion of 
so little a body? Can there be devised a thing more finely and 
cunningly wrought than the wings set to her body? Mark what 
long-shanked legs above ordinary she has given unto them. See 
how she has set that hungry hollow concavity instead of a belly, and 
made the same so thirsty and greedy after blood; man's especially. 
Come to the weapon that it has to prick, pierce and enter through 
the skin, how artificially has she pointed and sharpened itl And 
being so little as it is, she has framed it for a twofold use; to wit, 
most sharp-pointed to prick and enter, and hollow like a pipe to 
suck in and convey the blood through it. 

"Aristotle is of opinion that only those creatures have a voice as 
are furnished with lungs and windpipes; that is to say, which 
breathe and draw their wind. And therefore he holds" that the noise 
we hear coming from Insects is no voice at all, but a sound occa- 
sioned by the air that gets within them and so being enclosed 
yields a certain noise and resounds again. And thus it is (quoth he) 
that some keep a humming or buzzing, as Bees; others make a 
cricking with a certain long train, as the Grasshoppers; for it is 
evident and well known that the air entering into those pipes (if I 
may so term them) under their breast and meeting with a certain 
pellicle or thin skin, beats upon it within, and so sets it a stirring, 
from which attrition comes that shrill sound." [53] 

Pliny had no hesitation in declaring that insects did both 
breathe and sleep. As to breathing, he was correct to the 
extent that insects have a method of circulating air through 
enlarged pores in their integuments and are thus enabled to 
perform an action equivalent to breathing through lungs. 
On the question of their having bones Pliny also decided 
rightly that they have none no internal structure such as a 
skeleton, but only a hard outer covering. These minor points, 
however, are dismissed as scarcely worthy of discussion, as 
mere "doubtful quillets". 



Aristotle had left an excellent dissertation on bees and 
their habits, but some critics say that, in part at least, another 
hand, that of a practical and intelligent bee-keeper, wrote it. 
In it the question was left undecided whether a king or queen 
ruled the hive. Pliny definitely decided that the monarch was a 
king dwelling in his own palace; he confused the sexes, in 
ignorance that the drones were the males and the workers the 
undeveloped females. 

In picturesque terms he describes how they gather and 
manufacture honey and wax, sucking the substance from the 
flowers and the gums of trees and mixing with it juices from 
the more bitter herbs in order to keep "other little vermins" 
from stealing the honey. The story of their commonwealth is 

"They have a policy and Commonwealth among themselves. 
They hold their several counsels, and there is not a swarm or cast 
that they have without a king and captain of their own; and, what 
is most admirable of all, there are civil fashions and customs among 
them. Moreover, being neither tame and gentle nor yet to be 
counted wild and savage, Nature has effected of so little a creature 
a thing incomparable. What strength of sinews, what force and 
puissance is able to countervail this great industry and effectual 
power of theirs! What wit and policy of man is answerable to 
their discreet and orderly course! Believe me, in this one point 
they surpass them all, that all things are common among them 
and they recognise nothing private and several. 

"The manner of their business is this. All the daytime they have 
a standing watch and ward at their gates, much like to the corps 
de guard in a camp. In the night they rest until the morning; by 
which time one of them awakes and raises all the rest with two or 
three big hums or buzzes that it gives to warn them, as it were, with 
sound of trumpet. At which signal the whole troop prepares to fly 
forth if it be a fair and calm day, for they foresee when it will be 
either windy or rainy, and then they keep within their strength and 
fort. Now when the weather is temperate and the whole army is 
on foot and marches abroad, some gather together the virtue of 
the flowers within their feet and legs. Others fill their gorge with 
water and charge the down of their bodies with drops of such 
liquor. The younger sort go forth to work and carry, while the 



elder labour and build within the hive. Such as carry the flowers 
stuff the inner part of their legs behind with the help of their fore- 
feet. Thus being full laden with their provision they return home 
to the hive with their burden, by which time there are three or four 
ready to receive them, and those ease and discharge them of their 

"It is wonderful to observe the manner of their work. They 
remark the slow-backs, they chastise them anon, yea and afterwards 
punish them with death. Towards evening their noise begins to 
slack and grows less and less, until one of them flies about with the 
same loud humming with which she waked them in the morning, 
thereby giving a signal, as it were, and commandment to go to rest, 
much after the order in a camp. And then all of a sudden they are 
all hushed and silent. 

"These pretty creatures hurt no fruit whatsoever. They will not 
settle upon a flower that is faded, much less on any dead carcase. 
They do not go from their hive about their business more than 
threescore paces; and if it chance that they do not find sufficient 
flowers within these limits, out go their spies whom they send to 
discover forage farther off. If in this expedition they are overtaken 
by the night, they couch upon their back for fear lest their wings 
should be overcharged with the evening dew. 

"The houses and habitations that Bees build first are for the 
Commons, which being finished they set in hand a palace for their 
king. If they foresee that it will be a good season they make 
pavilions also for the Drones. Although they are of themselves 
bigger than the very Bees, yet they take up the least lodgings. Now 
these Drones are without any sting at all as one might say, im- 
perfect Bees and the last fruit of such old ones as are weary and 
able to do no more good; and indeed they are no better than slaves 
to the right Bees. Therefore the other master Bees have them at 
their commandment; if any drudgery or such-like business is to be 
done, out they are sent first, and should they make slow haste in 
that they are set about, sure they are to pay for it and to be pun- 
ished withour mercy. 

"Now as touching the generation of Bees and how they multiply 
and increase there has been much dispute among the learned and a 
nice question this is. For Bees were never seen to engender one 
with another and therefore most men have been of opinion that 
young Bees must needs be made of flowers fitly and handsomely 



laid together and composed according to Nature's lore. Others say 
that one master-Bee which is the king in every swarm, begets them 
all and that he forsooth is the only male, bigger than the rest and 
more strong because he should not faint and fail in the action. 

'This is certain that Bees sit as Hens do; and that which is (after 
a sort) hatched by them, seems at the first to be a little white grub 
or maggot, lying crosswise overthwart the honey and sticking so 
fast to it that it seems to feed thereon. The king that shall be is at 
first yellow and of the colour of honey, as if he were made of the 
most choice and excellent flower of all the rest; he is nothing like to 
the other grubs but from the very first has wings. The manner and 
experiment hereof was once seen in a farm near Rome, belonging 
to a Nobleman who had once been Consul: for he caused his hives 
to be made of lantern horn, so that a man might see through into 

"As for the young bees they begin work with their mothers and 
are trained by them to learn how to gather honey. These young 
people have a young king also unto whom they make court and 
whom they follow. And many such kings are bred at first; but when 
the Bees are grown big, they all agree with one accord and voice to 
kill those that are most untoward among them, for fear they should 
make divisions and factions. The kings are of two sorts; those that 
are red all over are better than the black or parti-coloured. All the 
race of them are very fair and goodly to look at; and twice as big as 
the rest, their wings shorter, their legs straight; in their port and 
manner of march more stately; carrying in their front a white star 
like a diadem or coronet; far brighter also and neater than the com- 
mon sort. 

"In one small matter that is daily seen in our country houses all 
the Authors who have written of Agriculture are not yet agreed: 
namely, whether the king of Bees alone has no sting and is armed 
only with majesty: or whether Nature has bestowed a sting upon 
him and denied him only the use thereof. For it is certain that this 
great commander over the host does nothing with his sting, and yet 
they are all ready to obey him. When he marches abroad the whole 
army goes forth likewise. Then they assemble together and environ 
him round about; they are his guard and keep so close that they 
will not suffer him to be seen. At other times when all his people 
are busy in labour, he himself (as a right good captain) oversees 
their works, goes about from one to another, encouraging them 



in well doing and exhorting them to ply their business. About his 
person he has a certain guard ever attendant; he has his Lictors and 
officers always in readiness, in token of majesty and princely port. 
He never sets forward except when the whole swarm is pressed 
likewise to go forth; and in truth before a voyage and expedition, 
for many days together, there is an extraordinary humming and 
noise within while they prepare to dislodge, trussing up as it were 
their bag and baggage and expecting only a fair day of remove. And 
supposing that the king has in some battle lost one of his wings, yet 
his host will not forsake him and fly. When they are on the march, 
each one desires and strives to be next the prince, as if they took a 
joy and pride to be seen by him in the performance of their devoir. 
If he begins to be weary, they support him with their shoulders. If 
he is tired and faints outright they carry him full and whole. Where 
the king once settles and takes up his resting place, there they all 
pitch their tents and encamp.** [54] 

The poets have drawn many of their favourite illustrations 
from the bees. If we compare the passage out of Paradise 
Lost describing the assembling of Satan's followers, we see a 
strong likeness to Pliny's account. 

"As bees 

In spring-time, when the Sun with Taurus rides, 
Pour forth their populous youth about the hive 
In clusters; they among fresh dews and flowers 
Fly to and fro, or on the smoothed plank, 
The suburb of their straw-built citadel, 
New-rubbed with balm, expatiate, and confer 
Their state affairs: so thick the aery crowd 
Swarmed and were straitened." 

Superstitions were almost as rife about bees as about 
birds. If they hung like clusters of grapes on men's houses 
or on the temples of the gods, folk had immediate recourse 
to devotions and sacrifices to appease the heavenly powers. 
That bees had powers of discrimination was proved by their 
settling on the lips and mouth of Plato when he was a babe, 
by which sign they foreshadowed his singular eloquence. 
Dryden used the image in a well-known Ode: 

"And if no clustering Swarm of Bees 
On thy sweet Mouth distill'd their golden Dew. . . ." 


How were insects propagated? The answer was spontaneous 
generation. Bees and wasps appeared of themselves in the 
carcases of certain animals. (Samson found a swarm of bees 
and honey in the carcase of the young lion he had killed.) 
Different substances produced different insects; but there 
seems to have been an order of precedence in^ these curious 
processes of generation. Out of the carcases of lions and oxen, 
being the nobler progenitors, the bees proceeded; out of 
horses came the hornets, wasps and, presumably, horse-flies 
as well; asses' carrion, being the lowest in the scale, occasioned 
the ignoble beetle. Aristotle held that fleas, mosquitoes, day- 
flies were also formed out of putrifying substances; and as a 
parallel among the fishes, eels were supposed, from the time 
of Aristotle downwards, to be generated from horse-hair 
preferably the hair of a stallion when it was well steeped in 
a shallow pool. 

The butterfly had a more dainty origin. It was bred of the 
dew which settled upon the radish leaf in the beginning of 
Spring. This dew hardened with the heat of the sun and from 
it came a little grub which in the end gathered a "hard husk 
or case about her". This was called Chrysalis: after some lapse 
of time the "kex or husk is broken and he proves a fair flying 

Other insects were believed to be bred from raindrops 
lying on the ground. Timber, our own bodies, carrion, the 
hair of the head, cloth, wax, dust, were all of them spontaneous 
producers of insects. Even the common little flies were derived 
from a kind of moist powder in the crannies of the ground. 

It was a pardonable mistake to assign spiders to the insect 
class, the modern distinction lying in such technical points as 
the number of legs and eyes, and the two- instead of three- 
department body belonging to the Arachnidce. The cleverness 
with which the spider constructs its web is well observed: 

"She begins to weave at the very middle of the web and when 
she had laid the warp brings over the woof wound in rings. She 
dispenses the meshes by even spaces and as they increase from 
narrow to be broader, they are held and tied fast by knots that 



cannot be undone. Mark, I pray you, how artificially she hides the 
snares in that net of hers, made into squares, to catch the poor flies. 
See how slack and hollow the net is made to abide the wind for 
fear of breaking, and so much the better to fold and enwrap what- 
ever comes within her reach. Is there any Architecture comparable 
to the vault and arched frame of her nest and hole? And to keep 
out the cold see how it is wrought with a longer and deeper nap 
than the rest! What subtlety is this of hers to retire into a corner 
so far from the middle, as if she went about some other business! 
What shall I say of the strength of this web which has to resist 
the puffs and blasts of winds, of the toughness to hold and not 
break, notwithstanding a deal of dust weighs and bears it down? 
Many a time you will see a broad web reaching from one tree to 
another; and this is when she learns to try her skill. She stretches a 
thread and warps it from the top of the tree down to the ground, and 
up again she whirls most nimbly by the same thread. Now if it 
chance that anything light into her net, how watchful, how quick- 
sighted, how ready she is to run! Even if it be snared in the very 
skirt and utmost edge she always scuds into the middle, for by 
shaking the whole net she entangles the fly all the more. "When the 
web is slit or rent she presently mends and repairs it, and that so 
evenly and small that a man cannot see where the hole was darned 
and drawn up again. Moreover, many prognostications depend 
upon these Spiders; for against any inundations and overflowings 
of rivers they make their cobwebs higher than they were wont. 
In fair and clear weather they neither spin nor weave. Upon thick 
and cloudy days they are hard at work; and therefore many cobwebs 
are a sign of rain. Some think it is the female that spins and the 
male which hunts and gets in the provision for the family, thus 
ordering the matter equally in earning their living, as man and wife 
together in one house." [55] 

Spiders were a menace to bees in whose hives they wove 
their cobwebs with fatal results to the inmates. They also 
hunted young lizards, and the fight which ensued when they 
met was, Pliny says, a worthy spectacle to behold, fit for a 

The fierce instincts of spiders were equally well known 
with regard to their own kind. Pliny admits that they made 
devoted mothers, but more than hints that the mother is 

i 113 


eaten by the family as soon as the family grows up. This 
may be a confusion with the fact that with most spiders the 
female after the nuptials devours the unfortunate male, unless, 
as in the case of the Water Spider, he is large enough to take 
care of himself. Otherwise, marriage too often proved a 
tragic failure. 

Ants, like bees, enjoyed a kind of commonwealth. There 
was the same tireless industry enforced, the same collecting 
of stores. Also there were regular market days for "a mutual 
interview and conference together. And verily, it is a world 
to see, how they will assemble; what running, what greeting, 
what intercourse and communication there is between them, 
while they are inquisitive as they meet one with another! 
What news abroad, even like merchants at a Bourse!" 

The silkworms of Cos were deservedly famous. They came 
spontaneously from the flowers which were beaten down by 
the rain from the trees. The blooms, as they lay on the 
ground, were quickened into life, and it was believed that as 
caterpillars they gathered the cotton and down of the leaves 
and carded it with their nails, finally wrapping themselves 
into little round balls hung amongst the branches. Men 
gathered these cocoons and put them away in earthen pots. 
Finally a small thread was spun from which a fine silk cloth 
was made. Soldiers liked to wear silk in the summer, as the 
weight of a good corslet and armour was considerable. 

Beetles were of many different kinds. There were large stag 
beetles with long horns toothed like pincers which they could 
bring together and so nip and bite. Beetles were worshipped 
by the Egyptians as having an innate divine power; frequently 
they were hung about the necks of babes as remedies against 
sickness. One variety is described as tumbling upon their 
backs in dung which they rolled into great round balls with 
their feet for the purpose of making nests for the little grubs 
that were their young, so as to protect them against the cold 
of winter. 

Glow-worms shone in the night like sparks of fire; but it 
was only the brightness of their sides and tail that shone, 



because when they shut down their wings it was observed 
that they made no show of light. The opposites of the glow- 
worms were the black beetles which loved darkness. 

The ancients had practical experience of the devastation 
caused by locusts. It seems that the climate of India, as with 
the ants, stimulated their growth to such an unusual extent 
that they are credited with being occasionally as much as a 
yard long, a fact that accounts for the curious use to which 
their legs and thighs were put, when thoroughly dried 
namely, for the making of saws. These must be regarded as 
exceptional in point of size. Otherwise the common sort were 
classed amongst the most intelligent and enterprising of insects, 
and entirely normal. 

"They know when a famine is toward; for which reason they 
seek for food in far countries. Their coming is therefore holden 
for a plague of the gods, proceeding from their heavy wrath and 
displeasure. In their flight they keep such a noise with their wings 
that men take them for some strange birds. They shade and darken 
the very Sun as they fly, like a great cloud, insomuch that the people 
of every country behold them with much fear lest they should light 
in their territory. Where they settle, they cover whole fields of 
corn with a fearful and terrible cloud. Much they burn with their 
very blast, and no part is free but they eat and gnaw even the very 
doors of men's dwelling-houses. Many a time have the people of 
Rome, fearing a great famine and scarcity, been forced to have 
recourse to the Sibylline Books for remedy, and to avert the ire of 
the gods. In the Cyrenaic region within Barbary it is ordained by 
law to wage war against them every three yearsj that is to say, first 
to seek out their nests and squash their eggs; secondly to kill all 
their young; and last of all to proceed to the greater ones. Yea, and 
a grievous punishment lies upon the man who is negligent in this 
behalf, as if he were a traitor to his prince and country. Moreover, 
within the Island Lemnos there is a measure set down how many 
every man shall kill and show that measure full of dead Locusts. 
For this reason also they make much of Jackdaws and Choughs, 
whom they honour highly because they fly to meet the Locusts, 
and so destroy them. See in how many parts of the world this 
hurtful and noisome vermin is dispersed and spread; and yet in 
Parthia they are taken for very good meat. The voice that they 



have (such as it is) seems to come from the hinder part of their 
head; for about the jointure of the shoulders to the nape of the neck 
they are supposed to have certain teeth, which by grating and 
grinding one against the other yield a kind of crashing noise, like 
the Grasshoppers at midsummer's Sunstead or solstice/' [56] 

The locust 1 was in most respects looked upon as the weird- 
est and strangest of all insects. It embodied in a very curious 
manner, on a miniature scale,, the characteristics of several living 
creatures infinitely larger. In the Arabian Nights there is a 
description of this "beast", as it is called, which was said to hate 
the sons of Adam with so intense a hatred that it had in him the 
make of seven other strong and violent beasts. It had the head of a 
bull, the wings of a vulture, the feet of a camel, the tail of a 
serpent, the belly of a scorpion and the horns of a gazelle. If 
a locust is examined under a magnifying glass this will be 
found a remarkably accurate description and may partly account 
for the sinister reputation attached to the insect. 

1 As to dried locusts as a form of diet Herodotus tells us that between Egypt 
and Fezzan the inhabitants chased the locusts, dried them in the sun, ground them 
to powder and sprinkled this composition on their milk a nutritious beverage 
comparing favourably, no doubt, with modern prepared milk foods. 


Of Flowers and Herls 

IN looking through the lists of botanical authorities used by 
Pliny, the first names that strike the eye are those of Varro 
among the Latin authors, Aristotle and his pupil Theophrastus 
among the Greek. 

The title of being the "father of botany" has been assigned 
to Theophrastus. His scientific works covered almost as 
wide a field as those of Aristotle, but the most famous by 
which he is best known is his "history" of plants. A notable 
and original discovery standing to his credit was the difference 
existing between the internal structures of palms and other 
trees; also that the cotyledons, the leaves contained in the 
seed, differed from the leaves produced on the stem. By such 
discoveries he laid the foundations of modern botany. 

Pliny does not go so deeply into the scientific side of plants. 
He generalises over the beauty of flowers, the pleasure and 
delight they give; yet "Nature would have them to live and 
die in one day, good only to content the eye or please the sense 
of smelling: a great document and lesson for us men to learn, 
how all things that flourish most lovely and are the gayest in 
show fade the soonest and are gone suddenly." But to the 
practically minded Roman there was more to be said for 
vegetation than a moral concerning its charm and fragility. 
Plants were of inestimable value as a vital source of health, the 
basis of all medicine. The belief existed that every ailment had 
its certain cure among the herbs if only it could be found, and 
this conviction took a firm hold on, the imagination. "The 
speculation thereof is infinite if a man considers the number 
of Herbs and Flowers together with their odours and colours, 



the diversity of their juices, their virtues and properties to 
cure men of their maladies or to give pleasure and contentment 
to their senses.'* 

This enthusiasm for herbal medicine, Pliny tells us, was^so 
insistent that men would climb to the summits of mountains 
and search into every vein and fibre of the earth to discover 
the hidden virtues of every root and the properties of the leaf 
of every plant. One great incentive was the fixed belief that 
birds and beasts knew as a matter of instinct where to find the 
herbs to cure their ailments, and so were their own physicians 
and could discover their medicines for themselves. This belief 
has lingered in many quarters to the present day. The writer 
knew a huntsman who regretted he had not had the opportunity 
of cutting open a sick fox to see what plant it had eaten to cure 
a certain disease from which it was suffering. Human beliefs 
persist and are curiously hard to eradicate. 

As many as eight books of the Natural History -are devoted 
to different forms of vegetation. Pliny's treatment is extremely 
f ree so discursive, in fact, that it is difficult to deal adequately 
with his information. But he manages to make it entertaining 
in spite of the deficiencies of the old scientific vocabulary 
which leaves a great deal of his matter still open to conjecture. 
The same confusion has arisen with many of the Biblical 
plants and trees which by no means in every case signify the 
plants and trees that their names are supposed to indicate. 

When Pliny speaks of the Roman gardens he generally 
means the plots of ground where flowers and simples were 
cultivated as one of the most important duties of the housewife 
if the larder and medicine-chest were to be kept well stocked. 
But he allows a word for the famous gardens and parks of 
mythology and history: 

"Our forefathers had nothing to speak of in more account than 
the Gardens of the Hesperides, of Adonis and Alcinous; as also those 
pendant Gardens upon terraces and leads of houses of Semiramis, 
Queen of Babylon, and Cyrus, King of Assyria. Now for this 
present (to go no further back than Rome) the Roman kings made 
great store of Gardens and cultivated them with their own hands. 



For we read that Tarquin surnamed the Proud (last King of Rome) 
was in his garden when he sent that cruel and bloody message of his. 

"There are certain religious or ridiculous superstitions of some 
who we see ceremoniously bless their Garden to preserve them 
against the witchcraft and sorcery of spiteful and envious persons. 
Therefore they set up in Gardens ridiculous and foolish images of 
Satyrs, Antiques and such-like as good keepers and remedies against 
envy and witchcraft; although Plautus assigns the custody of Gar- 
dens to the protection of the goddess Venus. And even in these 
days, under the name of Gardens and Hortyards there are many 
dainty places of pleasure within the city: under the colour and title 
of them men are possessed of fair closes and pleasant fields, and of 
proper houses with a good circuit of ground lying to them, like 
pretty farms and granges in the country. All of which they term 
by the name of Gardens. 

"At Rome a good Garden was thought of as a poor man's 
chievance (estate); it went (I say) for land and living. The Garden 
was the poor commoners' shambles (stalls); it was all the market- 
place he had wherewith to provide himself with victuals. What a 
blessed, what a secure and harmless life that was, so long as men 
could be content with such a pittance! But I suppose it is better to 
satisfy the appetite of our wanton gluttons and bellygods and 
search in the bottom of the deep sea to get oysters, to have no fear 
of tempest or shipwreck; better to look for dainty birds from beyond 
the River Phasis in spite of the danger to those, according to the 
fearful tales about them, that approach near to them; better to chase 
the wild and savage beasts of the forest and fight with them, being 
in danger of being devoured as a prey by the animals which must 
soon after serve as venison for other men to eat. 

"To come again to these commodities of the Garden, how cheap 
they are ! How fitted not only to fill the belly and satisfy the hunger, 
but also to please the tooth and content the appetite, if it was not 
that wealth and fullness stand in the way! It might be endured that 
apples and other fruits of the trees such as are more exquisite than 
the rest in regard of their beauty, bigness, pleasant savour or strange 
and monstrous manner of growing against the course of Nature 
that these dainties should be reserved for the rich; that wealthy 
personages should be served at their table with old wines and drink 
no other except what was wine before they were born: but why 
should a cabbage be pampered to such a size that a poor man's 



board will not hold it? Dame Nature ordained at the first that 
Asparagus should grow wild so that every man might gather them 
to eat; and now behold, they are cherished carefully in Gardens! 
From Ravenna you will have Garden Asparagus as fair and big as 
three of their crops or heads will weigh a good pound and are sold 
after three a Roman As. Oh, the monstrous bellies there are nowa- 
days ! The excessive gluttony and gormandising which reign in the 
world! 1 It would be surprising indeed for the poor asses and such 
dumb beasts to be forbidden to feed upon Thistles, and yet the 
Commons of Rome dare not touch them (that is, the artichokes 
which are no better than Garden-Thistles). 

"That part of the Garden, which serves a house with poignant 
herbs instead of sauce to give a commendable taste and seasoning 
to our meat, shows plainly that the master and mistress were not 
wont to run in the merchants* books for spicery, but changed the 
Grocer's or Apothecary's shop for the Garden. They sought not 
for pepper out of India or for any Kitchen spices imported from 
far countries. Let us therefore give to Gardens their due honour. Let 
us not deprive things of their credit and authority because they are 
common and not costly. For I may tell you, some of our nobility, 
the best of the city, have not disdained to take their surnames from 
thence, as we see in the noble house of the Valerii, some of whom 
were not ashamed to be called Lactucini, in regard to the best kind 
of lettuce that they had in their Gardens, or affected most. And 
here I must mention that certain Cherries bear our name and are 
called Plintana, in testimony of our affection and love to that; which 
reminds me that Virgil says how hard it is for such small matters 
as these to gain any honourable reputation." [57] 

1 Seneca also has something scathing to say on the subject of gluttony which 
gives us a glimpse of the manners of the period. "Digestion is spoiled through 
indulgence. Breakfast is heaped upon a supper prolonged till daylight. While the 
revellers are literally bursting with the lavishness and variety of the courses, heavy 
drinking plunges them still deeper in the mire. Though they protect the banquetting 
table with draperies and windows, and seek by roaring fires to banish winter's colds, 
nevertheless the languishing appetite, exhaused by its own heat, yearns for something 
new to revive it. 

"Good heavens! how easy a thing it is to quench the thirst of health! But what 
feeling can jaws retain which are deadened and numbed by scalding food? These 
epicures can have nothing cold enough, neither can they have anything hot enough. 
Mushrooms taken from die fire and hastily dipped in their special sauce are crammed 
down the throat almost boiling, and the heat has to be allayed by draughts chilled 
in snow. . . . You must now search for something colder stillj for a stimulant that is 
habitual is no stimulant at all." 



Pliny's own preference evidently lay in the direction of 
market gardening and the cultivation of simples. The growing 
of flowers must have been very much a side issue, as is the 
manner of cottage gardens. Necessities of life were the first 
consideration, the use of flowers as a personal adornment 
being firmly discouraged by the stricter class of Roman. Such 
signs of weakness and effeminacy were held to be typical of 
the luxurious Greeks rather than of the frugal and industrious 
Italians. Roses, it is true, were cultivated in vast quantities, 
but mostly for religious, culinary and medicinal purposes. 
Thirty-two remedies were allotted to the rose quite apart 
from its use as a pleasant flavouring for various dishes. Twelve 
varieties in all are mentioned, of which the roses of Praeneste 
and Capua were the most famous. 

Four varieties of lilies were cultivated, three of narcissus, 
seventeen of violets and forty-one of the iris. "Lilies" as a 
term of description has always been loosely applied. The 
"Lily of the Valley" in the Bible referred to the scarlet anemone 
and often the word was used merely to denote beautiful flowers. 
But the Madonna Lily is definitely indicated by Pliny as the 
most beautiful of all the varieties; he mentions its weak and 
slender neck and the head of an incomparable whiteness bend- 
ing and nodding downwards. A pleasant gardening touch 
that you might read in any modern journal is the advice to 
plant lilies amongst roses in order to show a succession of 
bloom. Narcissus was changed into a flower and to the Greeks 
the blossom (identical with the Rose of Sharon) was associated 
with imminent death, an idea extended to the fields of daffodil 
the modern equivalent of the meads of asphodel. It was the 
last flower gathered by Proserpine, and has remained constantly 
with the poets as the emblem of grief: 

"And Daffadillies fill their cups with tears." 

Violets, too, had a sombre association from the custom of 
placing them oa graves. The hyacinth was yet another 
flower with sad reminiscences, as it was said to carry the 
impress of Apollo's grief on its leaves the veins correspond- 


ing to the Greek letters Aiai (alas!). It was a flower, too, that 
sprang from the blood of Ajax; just as the anemone, which 
only opened when the wind (anemos) blew, marked the spot 
where Adonis bled: 

"A purple flower sprung up, chequer'd with white; 
Resembling well his pale cheeks, and the blood 
Which in round drops upon their whiteness stood." 

In a less poetical capacity the anemone served as a charm. 
"A man should gather the first he sees in any year, saying, 1 
gather thee for a remedy against tertian and quartan agues*. 
Which done, the party must lap and bind the flower in a red 
cloth and when required either hang it about the neck or tie 
it to the arm or some other place." A typical instance of the 
ritual of the so-called "shizotomist" school. 

Pceonies, the largest of the buttercups, were grown in 
Roman gardens: also the smaller kinds the crowfoot, or 
crowflower, and goldilocks. "Violets", as Holland points 
out in a marginal note, was a very wide term, including such 
sweet scented plants as stocks and wallflowers. It was also a 
class in which the foxglove figured; marigolds even (although 
attention was drawn to their unpleasant scent) came under the 
same heading. This is only one example of the loose method 
of arranging plants before more scientific methods prevailed. 
Pliny brackets together such dissimilar types as cowslips, 
primroses, lychnis and mullein ("High-taper") and the reason 
seems to be that his mind is more centred on their medicinal 
values than their appearances. He casually remarks that to 
distinguish these herbs into their different kinds is a needless 
piece of work considering that they agree in the same effects 
namely, in the making of a disagreeable draught which " by 
the effect that it works makes amends". This is a candid 
admission of the principle that the nastier the potion the 
sharper the cure. Pliny's occasional ironical tone does not 
suggest that he is lacking in discrimination. 

Kings and queens, or their physicians, have often, we find, 
given their names to plants. The Euphorbia, distinguished 



by the white liquor it produced, is one instance. Euphorbus 
was King Juba's physician. When the king became ill he 
called in another doctor "and these two brethren physicians 
joined together in council and gave direction to wash the 
body all over in much cold water after the hot bath or stove, 
thereby to knit and bind the pores of the skin; for before their 
time the manner was to bathe in hot water only, as we see 
plainly in the Poet Homer". 

Another herb, the Lysimachia, derived its name from King 
Lysimachus who rated its virtues extremely high. When laid 
upon the yoke of two beasts which were not pulling well 
together it would "stay their strife and make them agree well 
enough". The Gentian, too, was called after King Gentius 
of Illyria. And Queen Artemisia adopted the herb Mugwort 
to herself, calling it by a far prettier name, Artemisia; and 
nowadays it happens to be the basis of a world-famed insect 

Gardens must have been reticent in tone, for the range of 
colour was not great. Vegetables indeed held the more 
prominent place. It is not surprising to find that the pursuit of 
gardening conduced to longevity. Pliny quotes the case of a 
certain Antonius Castor as an example. "I had the opportunity 
of visiting his garden in which, though he had passed his 
hundredth year, he cultivated vast numbers of plants with the 
greatest care. Though he had reached this great age he had 
never experienced any bodily ailment, nor were his memory 
or natural bodily vigour impaired." These excellent results, 
it may be noted, were due to the remedial qualities of the 
vegetables, not to the beneficial effects of the exercise in the 
open air. The number of remedies attributed to vegetables 
is astonishing; eighty-seven to cabbages, sixty-one to garlic, 
twenty-seven to onions, forty-two to lettuce, twenty-four to 
asparagus, forty-three to the radish, eleven to elecampane (a 
favourite condiment, by the way, of young Honeyman in 
The Newcomes\ twenty-six to the wild and nine to the culti- 
vated cucumber. Then there were the herbs used for flavour- 
ings, which also had their remedies eighty-four attributed 



to rue (a well-tried panacea), twenty-five to pennyroyal, 
forty-one to mint which the Jews used with the paschal lamb, 
sixty-one to anise, and forty-four to mustard. Still, in spite 
of this superabundance of medicine in the kitchen garden, there 
was a strong tendency to neglect home-grown remedies and 
to rely upon novelties with a reputation from abroad: 

"Nowadays we use no other drugs but those that come from 
Arabia and India. And if a man ail never so little, or have the least 
push or wheal about him, he must have some costly Physic forsooth 
for it, such as a plaster that came from as far as the Red Sea: whereas 
in truth the right remedies appropriate for every malady are no 
other than such as the poorest man feeds on every night at his 
supper." [58] 

But some of these "remedies" grown in the garden must 
have been very uncertain in their action. Seventeen remedies, 
for instance, are ascribed to the gourd. One variety a risky 
recommendation can be identified with the kind responsible 
for the "death in the pot", mentioned in 2 Kings^ the effects 
of which Elisha was happily able to neutralise at Gilgal. This 
gourd, as may be imagined, was capable of extremely violent 
reactions. The safer and still popular cucumber was a favourite 
plant with Tiberius. He would never be without it and 
cultivated the plants in movable frames, or raised beds 
mounted on wheels, so that they could be moved about to 
receive the full heat of the sun during the day. 

Lettuce as a salad was a famous specific for promoting 
the appetite. We are assured that the life of Augustus was 
once saved by eating it, on the advice of his own physician, 
whereas previously other medical advisers had strictly for- 
bidden him any indulgence in this most innocent diet. Wild 
cabbages were eaten. Scurrilous songs were sung by the sol- 
diers of the Emperor Julian on the theme that these cabbages 
were all that they had to live on at the siege of Dyrrhachium. 
We are told in reference to cabbage-culture that the pest of 
caterpillars can be averted by steeping the seed in the juice of 
the house-leek. If this failed, the skull of a beast of burden 



could be hung on a stake in the garden, care being taken that it 
should be the head of a female beast. 1 

A river crab would also scare away birds, we are told. 
These practices must have been due to some curious super- 
stition, unless the sight of strange and weird objects might 
have been thought likely to frighten away intruders. Applied, 
however, to caterpillars it is difficult to see how they could 
have proved efficacious. 

Odd examples of flower lore are constantly recurring. 
The celadines and hawkweeds not very dissimilar were 
associated with birds; the one with the swallows which come 
and go with the flowers, the other with the hawks. But the 
same story is told of both, that the older birds used the plants 
to sharpen the vision of the young ones. Buttercups were 
"of a caustic and burning quality" and were recommended 
for skin diseases; on similar grounds they were not lightly 
valued as a hair restorer. 

Plants which were inclined to irritate the skin came, as one 
would expect, well within the sphere of physic. Amongst 
these was the stinging nettle. By touching the legs of persons 
in a lethargy, or on the forehead, the patient might be roused. 
This sounds plausible enough; but we are surprised to learn 
that for gout the leaves were beaten up with bears' grease and 
taken internally. Also to cure the bite of a salamander, Apollo- 
dorus prescribed nettles to be taken in the broth of a boiled 
tortoise (turtle soup!). Parkinson said with what truth we 
know not that Caesar's soldiers found the climate of Britain so 
bitterly cold that they rubbed their bodies with nettles to keep 
themselves warm. Another medicine with a long history is 
castor oil, to be taken, so Pliny recommends, with an equal 
quantity of hot water. Another use (still in vogue) was to 
assist the growth of the hair. 

Insomnia was an ailment not confined to modern times. 

1 The same idea has survived, to judge from a letter that recently appeared in 
The Times from a correspondent whose gardener was in the habit of hanging a 
horse's skull on an apricot tree to encourage it to bear fruit. It appears that horse 
and camel skulls are still hung by Arabs and negroes on the date palms for similar 



Panaces, water betony and aristolochia were amongst the herbs 
prescribed for smelling, and also for anointing the head, in 
order to procure sleep. Houseleek and sedum, wrapped in a 
black cloth (a useful piece of symbolism) could also advan- 
tageously be laid under the pillow or bolster of the sick 
person, provided and this was important that the patient 
had no previous knowledge of its presence. Oenothera, or 
evening primrose, was another specific for sleeplessness; mixed 
with wine it could be relied on to make the heart merry and so 
conduce to slumber. 

The sea plant, Samphire, was reckoned good for the com- 
plexion; it made folk 'look with a more lovely and cheerful 
colour". It was also commonly eaten in salads. Historically, 
or mythologically, it was the dish set by Hecate before 
Theseus. Being in taste aromatically pleasant, it was extensively 
used as a pickle, as indeed is still the custom in various parts 
of Europe. A judicious warning is given not to be too bold 
with it. A herb with kindred properties to rhubarb was 
Leontopodion, or Lion's paw, or Our Lady's Mantle. And 
saffron comes in as an antidote for drunkenness. "When our 
wine-knights purpose to sit square at the tavern and carouse 
lustily, if they drmk Saffron they need never fear the over- 
turning of their brain and it will make them carry their drink 

It is impossible to mention all the plants and their reputed 
qualities. Only a few other examples can be taken, such as 
the Crane's-bill (from geranos^ a crane; hence geranium), an 
attractive nickname, because "in the tops of the branches and 
springs little buttons or heads appear like Crane-bills"; the 
"Rest-harrow" so called not because it grows where the 
horses rest, but because it plagues, or "arrests", the plough 
by its obstinate and prickly branches clinging to the ground; 
the Centaury which cured Chiron, the Centaur, of a wound 
in his foot; Heliocryson, or Chrysanthemum, a plant of good 
fortune worn by the Sages of Persia; the Daisy (the "gowan", 
about which Mr. Micawber entertained some uncertainty); 
the Valerian or All-heal, still used as a nerve medicine; "Woad 



"with the juice of which the women of Britain, married wives 
as well as the young maidens their daughters, anoint and dye 
their bodies all over, resembling by that tincture the colour of 
Moors and Ethiopians". Amongst the rest the Saxifrage had 
a curious reputation. This plant, growing among the rocks, 
was supposed to have a wonderful knack of breaking up the 
stone hence its name although it was known that it had 
the least possible amount of root. 

A short account of plant decoration, both natural and arti- 
ficial, will be of interest as showing how the making of nose- 
gays, garlands, coronets, globes or chains of flowers became 
a popular amusement and how these "decorations" were used 
as tokens of honour. 

"In the earliest days the Greeks used to crown only with branches 
of trees those brave men who won the prize in their sacred Games 
and solemn Tourneys or exercises of activity. Afterwards they 
began to beautify and enrich their chaplets of triumph with flow- 
ers. Pausias and Glycera, the artificial maker of such chaplets set 
them first a-work. This painter was wonderfully enamoured upon 
the said Glycera and courted her by all the means he could devise. 
He would paint in bright colours the flowers she set with her 
fingers into Garlands; and she strove to alter her handiwork every 
day to drive him to a non-plus, or at least put him to his shifts. So 
that it was a very pleasant and worthy sight to see on one side the 
works of Nature in the woman's hand and on the other the artificial 
cunning of the painter. At this day there are to be seen pictures of 
his, and one above the rest entitled Stephaneplocos (a garland- 
maker) wherein he painted his sweetheart Glycera twisting and 
braiding Coronets and Chaplets as her manner was. 

"Then there soon came into request those Chaplets that are called 
Egyptian; and after them Winter Coronets, that is, at the time when 
the earth afforded no flowers to make them. These were made of 
horn shavings dyed in sundry colours. So in process of time the 
name Corollae crept into Rome (as one might say, small Garlands); 
for these Winter Chaplets at first were very pretty and small Not 
long after them followed the costly Coronets (called Corollaria) 
made out of thin leaves and plates of Latton (copper or tinsel) either 
gilded or silvered over, or else set out with gold and silver spangles 
and thus presented. 



"Crassus the rich was the first man who at the solemn games and 
plays in Rome gave away Chaplets of gold and silver resembling 
living flowers and foliage. Afterwards these Coronets were also 
adorned with ribands for more honour and state, hung with plates 
of gold wrought, chased and engraven and garnished with twink- 
ling spangles besides. 

"The Law used to be very strict and severe about wearing Gar- 
lands not won as prizes but only for pleasure and pastime. We read 
that Fulvius Argentarius during the second Punic War, upon in- 
formation that in the open daytime he only looked forth of a gallery 
he had in the Public Forum with a garland of Roses on his head, was 
by authority of the Senate committed to prison and not enlarged 
before the end of the war. P. Munatius, having taken from the head 
of the statue Marsyas a Chaplet of flowers and set it upon his own 
and thereupon being ordered to prison by the Triumvirs, called 
upon the Tribunes of the Commons for their protection: but they 
deemed him worthy of this chastisement. See the discipline and 
severity at Rome and compare it with the looseness of the Athenians, 
where youths ordinarily followed revels and banquets and yet in 
the forenoon would frequent the schools of Philosophers to learn 
good instructions of virtuous life! Amongst us the only example 
of the abuse of Garlands is that of the daughter of Augustus Caesar, 
late Emperor, who with groan and grief of heart complained in some 
letters of his still extant that she was given to such riot and licentious 
looseness that night after night she adorned with Garlands the 
statue of Marsyas the Minstrel." [59] 

Evidently a line of distinction was drawn between the use 
and misuse of flowers, which it was expedient for the youth of 
the city to observe. This was due to the association of flowers 
with religion. Sir James Frazer favours the idea that wreaths 
and crowns were amulets before they were ornaments not 
so much to adorn the head as to protect it from harm by sur- 
rounding it with a plant or a metal by anything, that is, suffi- 
ciently magical to ward oS baneful influences. It is on this 
supposition that kings and priests were believed to wear 
crowns in order to preserve their sanctity. Dead bodies, 
doors of houses and memorials would be decorated with the 
same intention. It would in some obscure way seem that the 
wreath insulated the wearer from the approach of evil. 



In Pliny the chaplet or wreath is looked upon more as a 
decoration than a charm. If the decoration were merely trivial, 
and so used by the effeminate youth of the day, then it was 
to be condemned and put down by law. On the other hand, 
as a reward for valour, it was a thing to be highly prized, 
although it might be composed merely of leaves and grass. 
Here is an example of "a simple centurion" who was rewarded 
for valour in the field with a grass garland and allowed 
privileges afterwards such as had never before been granted: 

"This Centurion having the conduct of the foremost band of a 
regiment of soldiers under Colonel Catulus, on finding all retreat 
for his legion cut off by the enemy and perceiving his captain or 
Colonel Catulus aforesaid timorous and doubtful to break through 
the enemy's camp, put on a resolute mind, slew his own Colonel, 
exhorted the companies to quit themselves like men and follow his 
ensign. So he defeated his enemies and delivered his own legion. 
I read moreover in the Chronicles that the same Centurion had 
also the honour done him, that being clad in a long robe of embroi- 
dered purple, and assisted by both the Consuls for the time being, 
he was allowed to sacrifice to the gods with a noise of fifes and haut- 
boys sounding hard by the hearth or altar fire." [60] 

The chaplets worn at banquets were supposed to refresh 
the spirits, stimulate the appetite and incite those present to 
drink liberally and make merry. But there was a danger that 
the odour of the flowers might penetrate to the brain before 
one was aware. Pliny illustrates his point with an anecdote of 
Antony and Cleopatra. 

"This reminds me of the device of Queen Cleopatra, full of fine 
wit and as wicked and mischievous withall, at the time when Antony 
prepared the expedition of Actium against Augustus. He stood in 
such doubt and jealousy of the said Queen, for all the fair show that 
she made of gratifying him and doing him all pleasure, that he 
would neither eat nor drink at her table without a taster. Cleopatra, 
seeing how timorous he was and minding yet to make good sport 
and game at his needless fear and foolish curiosity, caused a Chaplet 
to be made for M. Antonius, having previously dipped all the tips 
and edges of the flowers that went to it in a strong and rank poison. 
Being thus prepared she set it on the head of the said Antony. Now, 

K 129 


when they had sitten at meat a good while and drunk themselves 
merry, the Queen began to make a motion and challenge to Antony 
each of them to drink their Chaplets, and began unto him in a cup 
of wine seasoned and spiced (as it were) with those flowers which 
she wore herself. Oh, the shrewd and unhappy wit of a woman 
when she is so disposed! Who would ever have misdoubted any 
danger of hidden mischief herein? Well, M. Antony yielded to 
pledge her. Off goes his own Garland and with the flowers minced 
small, dresses his own cup. Now when he was about to set it to his 
lips Cleopatra put her hand between and stayed him from drinking, 
and withall uttered these words: 'My dear heart and best beloved 
Antony, now see what she is whom thou dreadest so much that for 
thy security there must wait at thy cup and trencher extraordinary 
tasters. A strange and new fashion truly, and a curiosity more nice 
than needful! Lo, would I have to seek for means and opportunities 
to compass thy death if I could find it in my heart to live without 
thee?' Which said, she called for a prisoner immediately out of 
Gaol whom she caused to drink off the wine which Antony had 
prepared for himself. No sooner was the goblet from his lips than 
the poor wretch died instantly on the spot." [61] 

Amongst the fruits one of the most important was the fig, 
a very valuable food used by all classes. The best and rarer 
kinds were packed in boxes and cases; but in regions where 
they grew most plentifully they were put up in great vessels, 
called Orcae, or in barrels and pipes, and eaten by the inhabi- 
tants "dry, that they serve both for bread and meat' 3 . Cato, 
who took a special interest in this produce, gave orders that 
his labourers, when the fruit was ripe, should employ them to 
the full, so that it became a custom to eat fresh figs with salt 
and powdered meats instead of cheese. Cato also used this 
fruit as a very striking proof of the nearness and danger of 
Carthage to Rome, urging upon the Senate the necessity to 
destroy the city if they were to enjoy any degree of security 
in the future. 

"The mention of the African fig puts me in mind of that notable 
occasion which, by means of that fruit, Cato took to root out the 
Carthaginians and rase their city. He was a man with a deadly 
hatred to that city and never ceased to importune the Senators of 



Rome, and to cry in their ears, that they should resolve to destroy 
Carthage. One day he brought into the Senate house an early or 
hasty fig which came out of that country and showed it before all 
the Lords of the Senate. 1 would demand of you', quoth he, *how 
long ago is it that this fig was gathered from the tree?* And when 
none of them could deny that it was fresh and new gotten, *Lo, 
my masters all,' quoth he, 'it is not yet full three days past since this 
fig was gathered at Carthage. See how near to the walls of our city 
we have a mortal enemy/ Upon this remonstrance they concluded 
to begin the third and last Punic War, in which Carthage was 
utterly subverted and overthrown. However, Cato did not survive 
the rasing and sacking of Carthage, for he died the year immediately 
following this resolution. But what shall we say of this man? Was 
it his provident care and promptitude of spirit, or the occasions 
presented by the sudden object of the fig? Was the forward expedi- 
tion of the Senate or the vehement earnestness of Cato more effectual 
to this enterprise? The most wonderful thing in my opinion is that 
so great a signory and state as Carthage, which had contended for 
the Empire of the world for the space of a hundred and twenty years, 
should thus be ruined and brought to nought by occasion of one 
fig. See how Cato by the means of one poor fig prevailed to bring and 
present the forces of Rome to the very walls of Carthage." [62] 


Of Many Inventions 

To know who first thought of a thing, or made it, has always 
interested people. Some inventions have been attributed to 
mythological personages, and there is reason to believe that 
some of these mythological personages to whom inventions 
were in the past attributed, did actually live as supermen or 
superwomen and were made gods and goddesses afterwards 
as a reward for their services to mankind. We have the author- 
ity of St. Augustine that an Egyptian priest told Alexander the 
Great that Zeus, Hera and the rest had lived on the earth as 
human beings. At any rate Pliny tells us that "Prince Bacchus 
brought up buying and selling; he also devised the diadem, 
that royal ensign and ornament". Here is an unexpected record 
differing in character from the usual associations of revelry 
and strong drink. Dame Ceres, too, was the first cultivator of 
corn, men previously having lived on the fruit of the oak. 
She taught them to grind corn, to knead dough and make 
bread in Greece and Italy; for which reason, we are told, she 
was reputed a goddess. Mercury, again, was credited with the 
invention of letters, although a rival claim was made for the 
introduction of the alphabet into Italy by the Pelasgians. 

We are on more certain ground with regard to the so-called 
invention of astronomy. Pliny tells us that observations of 
the stars were inscribed on Babylonian bricks and tiles 1,720 
years before him. From this he passes to Babylonian bricks 
and tiles for building, and our information is to the effect 
that men dwelt in holes and caves underground before they 
ever conceived the pattern of the first houses from observing 
the nests of swallows and martins. Cecrops founded the first 



town, and his name was given to the castle, or citadel, in 
Athens. But there were rival claims, some saying that Argos 
was the earlier, while the Egyptians affirmed that their Dios- 
polis was the earliest of all. 

To the Romans certain names must have been as familiar 
in Pliny's day as those of Watt, Stevenson, Edison and Marconi 
in our own. We gain a glimpse of a world in which the arts 
were well represented. Carpentry included lathe-work in 
wood and ivory; also fret- work and in-laying. Bronze hinges, 
nails, set-squares, chisels, saws and hammers were in common 
use. Baths were equipped with metal pipes and fittings. 
Instead of soap and a scrubbing brush, the strigil, or metal 
flesh-scraper, was used, mercifully supplemented with an 
emollient oil suitable for allaying any subsequent irritation. 
Door knockers, lamps and candelabra, brooches, buckles, 
safety pins, razors, nail files, mirrors, alabaster vases for oint- 
ments, ivory combs, bracelets and amulet cases were all evi- 
dences of a luxurious state of society. The Romans did not 
cut their hair in the early days. The barber was a compara- 
tively late institution. Actually, the Younger Africanus was 
said to have been the first to be shaved every day. How the 
razors to be seen in museum cases ever managed to cut or failed 
to gash is a mystery. The Emperor Augustus, it appears, was 
notoriously careless as to his personal appearance. 

The art of weaving is attributed to the Egyptians; the dyeing 
of wool to the Lydians. Arachne was the lady who first spun 
flax thread, and doubtless it was she who lent her name to the 
spider. Bcethius invented the art of sewing and was the first 
of the tailors and shoemakers. 

Sheep were obviously designed for the usefulness of their 
wool, and they introduce us to a dissertation on wool and 
clothes, tapestry and carpets. Sometimes the wool was 
"driven into a felt without spinning or weaving to make gar- 
ments", and the refuse taken out of the scourer's vat was used 
to stuff mattresses. Soldiers in the camp made shift with hairy 
rugs. Mantles, heavily lined, were brought into use in the 
time of Pliny's father. "At the present time", he says, "the 



studded cassocks that Senators and noblemen of Rome wear, 
are woven after the manner of deep frieze rugs." 

When a woman was married at Rome a distaff was carried 
in the procession, dressed with combed wool; "also a spindle 
with yarn upon it, as symbols of the domestic arts." The 
richest wear of all was "the waved water chamelot", which 
suggests that the "watered silk", beloved of cardinals, was an 
old invention. Embroidery also was common "flower-work, 
resembling poppies". This was said to be a Phrygian inven- 
tion. King Attalus devised cloth of gold, and at Alexandria 
different colours in twisted thread were woven into a cloth of 
tissue. France brought in square or lozenge damask work. 
The skin of hedgehogs was used to dress woollen cloth, an 
anticipation of the teasel, or carding thistle. The custom of 
dyeing the sheep's fleeces upon their backs, while they were 
still alive, with scarlet and violet was resented by Pliny as an 
example of riotous wantonness and superfluity "to make 
wool grow of a strange colour and so pervert the work of 

The Dactyli Idaei, on the authority of Hesiod, discovered 
the iron and steel mines in Crete; and Cadmus, the Phoenician, 
worked the gold mines near Mount Pangaus. The Cyclopes 
were the first smiths; Daedalus was the first carpenter, and 
brought in the saw, axe and hatchet, the plumb line, the auger 
and wimble, the strong glue, also the fish glue and the whet- 
stone. The lathe, rule and square, the level and the key were 
devised by Theodorus Samius; while Prometheus did not, it 
seems, himself discover the way to strike fire out of the flint, 
but was the first to preserve it in a stalk of Ferula which 
"makes the best matches to keep fire". The Phrygians in- 
vented the wagon and the chariot with four wheels. 

The history of the art of war is given in some detail. It 
was said that the first battle was fought between the Africans 
and Egyptians with bastons, clubs and coulstaves. The bow 
and arrow were derived from the Scythians and Persians; and 
the javelin had a leather thong tied to its middle to assist in 
throwing, in the manner still used by the Central Australian 



aborigines. The "Tortoise" was a military machine moved on 
wheels, and roofed with raw hides to prevent burning, used 
in besieging cities. The "Battering Ram 35 and the "Trojan 
Horse" were more mobile inventions, comparable with the 
modern Tank distant cousins, centuries removed. 

"Shields, bucklers and targets were devised by Praetus and 
Anisius when they warred against each other. Midias made the first 
cuirass or coat of mail, 1 and the Lacedaemonians the mourain 
(helmet), the sword and the spear. The Carians devised the greaves, 
the crests and pennaches upon helmets. Scythes, the son of Jupiter, 
devised bows and arrows, although some say that Perses invented 
arrows. The ^Etolians invented the lance and the pike, and ^Etolus 
the dart with the loop or thong. As for the light javelins and the 
Partisans Tyrrhenus brought them first into use, and Penthesilea, 
the Amazon-queen, the gleive, bill, battle axe and halbert. Piseus 
found out the boarspear and chasing staff. Among engines of 
artillery, the Cretans invented the Scorpion, or cross bow; the 
Syrians, the Catapult; the Phoenicians, the balista, or brake, and the 
sling. Piseus the Tyrrhenian brought up the use of the brazen 
trumpet, and Clazomnius of the pavois, mantilets, target-roofs for 
the assault of cities. The engine to batter walls (called sometimes 
the horse, and now is named the ram) was the device of Epeus at 
Troy. The Thessalians, called Centaurs, inhabiting the parts near 
Mount Pelius, were the first that fought on horseback. The 
Phrygians devised first to drive a chariot with two horses, the 
Erichthonians, with four. Palamedes during the Trojan War in- 
vented the manner of setting an army in battle array; also the giving 
of signal, the privy watch-word, the corps de guard, the watch and 
ward. In the time of the same war Simon devised the sentinels and 
watch-towers, as also the espiall. Lycanor was the first maker of 
truce, Theseus of leagues and alliances." [63] 

Iron was a metal which was regarded with deep suspicion 
because of the murderous possibilities connected with it. 

1 It may be of interest to quote Herodotus' description of the Persian uniform in 
speaking of the army of Xerxes. "They wore on their heads the soft hat called the 
tiara, and about their bodies tunics with sleeves of diverse colours, having iron 
scales upon them like the scales of a fish. Their legs were protected by trousers; and 
they bore wicker shields for bucklers; their quivers hanging at their backs, and their 
arms being a short spear, a bow of uncommon size, and arrows of reed. They had 
likewise daggers suspended from their girdles along their right thighs." 



The "flying iron" (the barbed arrow that flieth by day) is 
condemned in no measured terms as a barbarous invention 
unworthy of civilised peoples. Civilisation has advanced 
since then! But Holland makes a marginal note in the follow- 
ing terms: "O Pliny, what wouldst thou say if thou didst see 
and hear the Pistols, Muskets, Culverines and Cannons in 
these days?" This, mark you, was in 1601. What would he 
say to-day? 

"It remains to discourse of the mines of iron, a metal which we 
may well say is both the best and the worst implement now used in 
the world. For with the help of iron we break up and ear the ground 
we plant and plot our groves, we set out hortyards and range our 
fruitful trees in rows: we prune our Vines, and by cutting off the 
superfluous branches and dead wood we make them look fresh 
and young again every year. By means of iron and steel we build 
houses, hew quarries and cut in stone; in one word, we use it for 
all other necessary uses of this life. 

"On the other hand, the same iron serves for wars, murders and 
robberies, not only hand to hand, but also to reach and kill afar off 
with darts and shot, at one time discharged out of engines, another 
time launched and flung by force of the arm; yea, and sometimes 
let fly with wings, which I take to be wickedest invention that was 
ever devised by the head of man; for in order that death may speed 
away the faster to a man and surprise him more suddenly, we make 
it fly like a bird in the air and to the arrow headed at one end with 
deadly iron we set feathers at the other. From which it is evident 
that the mischief proceeding from iron is not to be imputed to its 
nature but to the unhappy wit of man. 

"We have already had good proof that iron can be employed 
without hurt or harm to mankind. In the capitulations of peace 
which Porsena, King of the Tuscans, tendered to the Roman people 
after the expulsion of the kings I see this express article that they 
should not use iron except only for the tillage of the ground. And 
our oldest Chronicles have recorded that it was not thought safe to 
permit writing and engraving letters with a style of iron. Indeed 
in the third Consulship of Pompey the Great, because of a tumult 
raised in the city of Rome for the murder of P. Clodius, an edict 
was published in this form: Ne ultum telum in urbe asset, i.e. That no 
man throughout all Rome should be seen to wear a weapon." [64] 


There is a hint, too, of prohibiting the use of the stylus as 
a writing implement, on the ground that it could be used as a 
dangerous stabbing weapon. We find a certain justification 
in the fact that the "stiletto" (a word of direct derivation) 
was used with deadly effect during the perio'd of the Renaiss- 

Iron was known to perish with rust. A paint of plaster and 
tar mixed with ceruse, a white material, was used to preserve 
it Also a religious ceremony to "hallow" iron was also be- 
lieved to be efficacious. At least one example is recorded of 
its success in the iron chain with which Alexander the Great 
strengthened the bridge over the Euphrates at Zeugma, the 
first instance known of a suspension bridge. 

The evolution of musical instruments began with Amphion. 
Pan invented the flute and the single pipe, or recorder. 
Amphion taught the Lydian measures and disputed with 
Orpheus the claim to have played first on the Citterne or Lute. 
The instrument originally had only one string, for we learn 
that more and more strings were added afterwards until finally 
it had nine in all. 

Greece was the great land of games. 1 Lycaon first set out 
the public contests for the proving of masteries and feats of 
strength and activity in Arcadia. Hercules instituted the exer- 
cise of wrestlers and boxers; and the first champions were 
crowned in his honour at Olympia. 2 Pyrrhus was the first 
player at tennis a game with a long history. And in the 
museum at Athens reliefs are shown of figures playing a game 
curiously like hockey. 

Pliny takes us back to the earliest days of navigation: 

1 The Lydians, according to Herodotus, were the great games-players of antiquity 
and passed on these pastimes to the Greeks. Dice, huckle-bones and playing with 
the ball are attributed to them. Homer, however, mentions the ball, a plaything 
which was known in ancient Egypt. Herodotus says that the Lydians endured the 
famine in their country by engaging in games on alternate days so that they could 
forget the pangs of hunger during these intervals. This method, he adds, carried 
them over a period of eighteen years; a severe test for the efficacy of the remedy. 

2 Herodotus tells us that ambassadors from Greece arriving in Egypt boasted that 
their arrangements for the conduct of the Olympic games were the best and fairest 
that could be devised. This was indeed a proud boast because the Egyptians had the 
reputation of being the wisest and most capable of all organisers. 



"Danaus was the first that sailed with a ship and so he passed the 
seas from Egypt to Greece; for before that time they used only 
troughs or flat planks, devised by King Erythra to cross from one 
Island to another in the Red Sea. But we meet with some writers 
who affirm that the Trojans and Mysians were the first sailors and 
devised navigation before them in the Hellespont when they set 
out a voyage against the Thracians. And even at this day in the 
British ocean there are made certain wicker boats of twigs covered 
with leather and stitched round about. On the Nile they are made 
of paper, cane-reed and rushes. 

"Philostephanus witnesses that Jason first used the long ship or 
galley; and the Erythraeans are said to have made the Bireme or 
galley with two banks of oars. Thucydides writes that Aminocles 
the Corinthian built the first Trireme with three rows of oars to a 
side. Aristotle says that the Carthaginians were the first that set 
to sea the Quadrireme with four ranks of oars to a side, and Nesich- 
thon the Salaminian set afloat the first Quinquereme with five 
course of oars on either side. Zenagoras of Syracuse brought up 
those of six, and so from it to those of ten. It is said that Alexander 
the Great built galleys for 12 banks to a side: Ptolemy rose to 15; 
Demetrius to 30; Ptolemy Philadelphus to 40, and Ptolemy 
Philopater to 50. 

"As for ships of burden and merchandise as hoyes, etc., Hippus 
Tyrius was the inventor. The Cyrenians made frigates; the 
Phoenicians the bark; the Rhodians, the pinnace and brigantine; and 
last of all the Cyprians made the hulk and great carrack (galleon). 
The Phoenicians were the first that in sailing observed the course 
of the stars. The vessels for transporting of horses were invented 
by the Samians or by Pericles the Athenian. The Thasii had the 
honour for framing the long ships covered with hatch; for before 
that they fought only from out of the hind deck in the poop and the 
forecastle in the prow. Then came Piseus and armed the stem and 
beak-head of the ship with sharp tines and pikes of brass. Eupala- 
mus devised the anchor; and finally Typhis the help of the helm for 
the pilot to steer and rule the ship." [65] 

During the struggle for naval supremacy in the Mediterran- 
ean Rome held a great advantage over her rivals in the woods 
and forests of Italy, an advantage enjoyed by England in later 
centuries. One instance was a fir tree which provided a mast 



for the huge ship in which Caligula brought the Obelisk from 
Egypt "there was never known to float upon the sea a more 
wonderful ship than it was". The mast was four fathoms 
round. The kings of Egypt and Syria had to use cedar as the 
best equivalent. An exceptionally large cedar tree which grew 
in Cyprus was cut down to make a mast for the galley of King 
Demetrius which had eleven, banks of oars on each side. 
This mast was 130 feet high and three fathoms thick. 

The brazen beaks, devised for ramming, on the vanquished 
ships were preserved as trophies, and gave their name to the 
rostra from which the orators harangued the people. But the 
public Rostra at Rome had another use as a mark in determin- 
ing the hour of noon. The last hour of the day was proclaimed 
when the sun had gone down, from the Mcenian column to 
the prison. Sundials were introduced later. 1 The first sundial 
was a column erected near the Rostra during the first Punic 
war, and lines were traced on the pavement to mark the position 
of the shadow. A ball later on was placed on the top of the 
gnomon as an improvement in the matter of accuracy, because 
the shadow of the style was apt to become blurred owing to 
the penumbra. To avoid the difficulty of telling the time in 
cloudy weather Scipio Nasica invented the clepsydra, or water- 

Amongst the uses to which Nature's gifts were applied the 
following may be quoted. Trees lent timber for carpentry, 
reeds were used for arrows and musical instruments, the 
papyrus for paper, corn for bread-making, vines for the fer- 
mented juice of the grape; and numerous other examples are 
given which serve to make up a somewhat rambling yet 
entertaining catalogue of necessities. 

Clothing was one of the foremost considerations. Leather, 
wool, and silk belonged to the animal and insect creation; 
linen and cotton were amongst the most important products 
of plants. Holland cloths and cambric were in great request; 
the Roman woman of quality, we are told, could think of no 

1 Against this Herodotus says that the sun-dial and the gnomon with the division 
of the day into twelve parts were received by the Greeks from the Babylonians. 



richer apparel than fine linen. Most of the spinning and weav- 
ing was done in caves and vaults because in these places the air 
was damp. In Spain the finest lawn was manufactured, and its 
singular brightness was attributed to the qaulity of the water 
of a brook passing under Tarraco. Pliny had a first-hand 
knowledge of Spanish industries from his experiences as 
governor in that province. The flax of Zoela was held in 
high repute for hunters' nets. These were made so strong 
that they could hold the wild boar and even turn the edge of 
a sword. He had himself seen a net so fine that it would pass, 
cords and all, through the ring of a man's finger. A man could 
carry nets sufficient to compass a whole forest and each of the 
threads that went to the making of the meshes was "twisted 
150 double". 1 

Cotton grew in the higher parts of Egypt. The plant is 
described as small, and bearing a fruit resembling a filbert, 
out of the husk of which a cotton breaks forth like down, very 
easy to spin; and no flax in the world was ever comparable 
with it for whiteness. "Of this cotton the Egyptian priests 
used to wear their fine surplices, and they took a singular 
delight therein". Certain specimens that have survived show 
an almost incredible fineness. 

It is surprising to find asbestos cloth mentioned. The 
material was supposed to grow very much in the same way 
as flax grew, only more slowly. 

'This in Italy they call Quick-lime and I myself have seen table- 
cloths, towels and napkins thereof which, being taken foul from 
the board at a great feast, have been cast into the fire, and there they 
burned before our face upon the hearth: by which means they 
became better scoured and looked fairer and brighter a hundred 
times than if they had been rinsed and washed in water; and yet no 
part of their substance, but only the filth, was burnt away. At the 
royal obsequies and funerals of kings the manner was to wind and 

1 Mosquito nets were an old institution in Egypt. Herodotus tells us that they 
had to use a contrivance against the gnats that came from the marshes and that the 
nets they used in the daytime to catch fish came in useful to sleep under during the 
night. The gnats, he says, will bite through a covering but will not attempt to pass 
through the net. 



lap the corpse within a sheet of this cloth in order to separate the 
cinders coming from the body from other ashes of the sweet wood 
that was burnt. This manner of Line grows in the deserts of India 
where no rain falls, where the country is all parched and burnt with 
the Sun, among the fell dragons and hideous serpents. Thus it is 
inured to live burning, which is the reason that ever after it will 
abide the fire. It is rare to be found and as hard to be woven, so 
short and small it is. It is reddish in colour, yet by the fire it gets 
a shining gloss and bright hue. Those that find it esteem it to be 
as precious as the best Oriental pearls. In Greek they call this Line 
Asbestinium according to the property that it has not to consume 
with burning." [66] 

Rich dyes were employed for linen and napery as well as 
for woollen cloth. Alexander the Great "painted" the sails 
and streamers of his fleet so that the people on the banks of 
the Indus were astonished at the sight of them waving gaily 
in, the breeze. The sails of Antony's ship, when he came to 
Actium with Cleopatra, were dyed purple, and a red purple 
banner flew at his mast-head. 

The amphitheatre at Rome was decorated by Nero with 
fine curtains drawn upon cords and ropes, dyed as blue as the 
sky and beset with stars, while the ground underfoot was red. 
And yet " for all these paintings and rich dyes, when all is 
said and done, the white linen held its own still and was highly 
esteemed above all colours". 

Carpentry was carried to a surprisingly high pitch of skill. 
We read of the delight that a joiner feels to see the fine shavings 
wind in patterns like the tendrils of a vine as his plane runs 
smoothly over the panels. The right kind of glue was essential 
in the art of veneering and marquetry, as in all work where a 
joint had to resist any considerable strain. The carpenters, 
too, were expert judges of the grain of the wood they were 
using. They liked the thready grain which branched and curled 
as if it shed tears trickling down the wood. Quite a mania 
existed for tables made from the citron trees near Mount Atlas; 
enormous sums were given for choice pieces by collectors. 
Wives, when complaints were made about the high prices of 



the pearls they wore, taunted their husbands with the extrava- 
gant sums they paid for the citron tables over which they liked 
to drink their wine. 

"There is at this day to be seen a board of Citron wood that once 
belonged to M. Tullius Cicero, and it cost him ten thousand 
Sesterces: a strange matter considerng he was no rich man. Not 
long ago one chanced to be burnt (it came with other household 
stuff from the cottages in Mauritania), which cost 140,000 Sesterces: 
a good round sum of money and the price of a fair lordship, if a 
man would purchase lands for as much. But the fairest and largest 
table of Citron wood that has been seen to this day, belonged to 
King Ptolomy of Mauritania, which was made of two half circles 
joined together so artificially that for the closeness of the joint it 
might have been of one piece. The diameter was four foot and a 
half and it was three inches thick. 

"The principal merit of these tables is to be crisped in the length 
of the vein, or beset here and there with winding spots. In the 
former the wood curls in and out along the grain and these are 
called Tiger tables. In the other there are sundry tufts, as it were 
enfolded and enwrapped round, and these they call Panther tables. 
Again there are some, of which the work in wainscot resembles the 
waves of the sea; and they are more thought of if they look like the 
eyes appearing in Peacocks' tails. But whatever the work and the 
grain of the wood, the colour is everything. Here at Rome we set 
most store on a colour like mead, or honied wine, shining and 
glittering in the veins of the wood. Some take a great pleasure in 
those faults which are incident to trees; to wit, the simple, plain and 
bare wood without any branched or curled grains at all, without a 
lustre and without marks, except at the most, resembling the leaves 
of a Plane tree. To season the wood of this Citron tree the Bar- 
barians bury the green boards or planks in the ground and besmear 
them all over with wax. But the carpenters put them for seven days 
within heaps of corn and it is incredible how much of the weight 
the wood loses by this means. To maintain these tables and to cause 
them to shine bright, the best way is to rub them with a dry hand, 
especially just after bathing. Nor do they take any harm or stain 
if wine is spilt on them, so that it would seem they were naturally 
made for serving wine/' [67] 

Box wood was much sought after for its "crisped and 



damask wise" grain, its hardness and pale golden colour. 
Beech had a grain "running two contrary ways like a comb". 
It was a wood much used for drinking vessels, and it is 
recorded that Manius Curius reserved for himself out of a 
large quantity of booty only one "cruet, or little ewer, of 
beech wood" with which he might sacrifice to the gods. Later 
the mazer bowls, made of maple, became the rage. 

The branches of the silver birch were used for making 
panniers and baskets. Better known to history were the disci- 
plinary measures taken by "those fine small branches of twigs 
so terrible to offenders". The magistrates executed justice 
with birch rods, a tradition worthily upheld by schoolmasters. 

Sweet-scented trees came from the East and were mostly 
associated with religious worship. Frankincense and myrrh 
were the chief products of Arabia Felix, the "Happy and 
Blest". 1 A strict ritual was observed in pruning the incense 
trees and gathering the harvest. When the frankincense was 
being dressed for sale the workshops were guarded with a care 
reminiscent of Kimberley and diamonds. A seal was placed 
on the workmen's aprons, masks were placed on their heads, 
and they were stripped naked before they were allowed to quit 
work, so precious was the commodity. Alexander as a boy 
was once reproved by Aristotle for his extravagance in loading 
the altars of the gods too liberally with frankincense. He was 
told by his mentor that it would be time for him to be so lavish 
when he had conquered the countries that produced it. 
Alexander remembered this admonition when he invaded 
Arabia and sent his old tutor a whole shipload with instructions 
that he could now worship the gods as liberally as he pleased. 

Cinnamon and cassia, on the authority of Herodotus, were 
found in birds' nests, principally in those of the phoenix, which 
were always built in the most difficult placesvery likely a 

1 The Arabian spices had the reputation of being closely guarded. Herodotus 
tells us that the trees which bore the frankincense were protected by small winged 
serpents, of varied colours, which hung about the trees in vast numbers. Other 
winged animals, resembling bats, which screeched horribly and were extremely 
savage, guarded the cassia trees so that the Arabs in collecting it were compelled to 
cover themselves with skins, leaving holes only for the eyes. 



story invented to justify the high prices asked. The free use 
of unguents from scented plants was first attributed to the 
Persians who soaked themselves with different kinds of scent. 
A chest, filled with perfumes belonging to King Darius, fell 
into the hands of Alexander, and the use of scents soon spread 
to Italy. Nero sprinkled the soles of his feet and Caligula used 
a kind of bath salts. The story is told of a certain L. Plotinus 
who, when hiding from pursuit, was betrayed by the scent of 
his unguents so that his pursuers got wind of him. Any num- 
ber of different scents were in use made from the iris, rose, 
saffron, marjoram amd quince blossom, narcissus, myrtle, 
balsam and cinnamon, the unguents being kept in vases or 
boxes of alabaster or lead. 

What does mankind not owe to paper? This question is 
asked by Pliny. "We must not forget the plant Papyrus", he 
says, "considering that all the civility of this life of ours, the 
memorial and immortality also of men after death, consists 
especially in the paper which is made from it." The papyrus 
served many other uses than literature. The ark in which 
Moses was discovered by Pharoah's daughter was made of 
this "bulrush", coated with pitch. It was used for sails, mats, 
clothes and ropes. Amongst the Moors cottages were thatched 
with it; and it was also chewed, the juice alone being swallowed. 
A point to be remembered is that the papyrus has ceased to 
grow in Egypt ever since the country was drained. The 
question put by Job "Can the rush grow without mire? Can 
the flag grow without water?" has been answered in the 

Paper was made by splitting the pith into very thin 
leaves, keeping them as broad as possible. The broadest from 
the centre were called Hieratica and were kept for the sacred 
books. Nine kinds of paper in all were made, the inferior 
quality, called Emporetica, being used for wrapping up 
parcels. For writing purposes there were the Augustan, the 
Claudian (the finest quality of all), and the Livian for ordinary 

Here is a brief history of literary materials: 



"M. Varro writes that the first invention of making paper was 
devised upon the conquest of Egypt, achieved by Alexander the 
Great, when he founded the City Alexandria; but men used first to 
write on Date tree leaves and afterwards on the rinds and barks of 
certain trees. Then in process of time they began to register public 
records on rolls and sheets of lead; and soon after private persons 
set down their private affairs in linen books, or else on tables 
covered with wax. For we read in Homer that before the war of 
Troy there was a use of writing tables, and at the time when he 
wrote Egypt was not all continent and firm land as it is now* 

"Afterwards, as Varro has written, when from an envious strife 
and emulation arising between one of the Kings Ptolemy and Eu- 
menes King of Pergamus about the erecting of their great Libraries, 
Ptolemy suppressed and kept in all the paper made in Egypt, parch- 
ment of skins was then devised by the said Eumenes to be wrought 
at Pergamus. And finally the use was commonly taken up of both 
(to wit, Paper and Parchment) which continues the perpetuity and 
everlasting remembrance of men and their affairs." [68] 

Reeds were used for arrows and musical instruments. The 
nations of the East (called "Easterlings") were the first archers, 
and barbed their arrow heads like fish hooks to prevent them 
being drawn easily out of the body. They could shoot so 
fast that a cloud of arrows seemed to shadow the sun. The 
more peaceful employment of reeds was for flutes and pipes. 
Great care was taken in cutting them at the right time, and in 
seeing that they were well seasoned; also in selecting the most 
suitable parts for the different instruments. The joint next 
the root was most suitable for the "Base pipe 5 * that was fitted 
for the left hand: for the Treble of the right hand the knots 
nearest the top of the reed were the best. The hautboys which 
the Tuscans played at their sacrifices were made of box-wood. 
Other instruments were "the pipes used in plays for pleasure, 
made of the Lotus, of asses' shank bones and of silver". 

Drinking and smoking were both considered in the light 
of inventions. Wine was recognised to be both a blessing 
and a danger. It was a saying that the two liquids most grateful 
to the human body were wine within and oil without, it being 
generally admitted that wine assisted human strength, the 

L I4J 


blood and the complexion. Used in moderation it was good 
for the sinews but was otherwise injurious. People who wished 
to lose weight were advised not to drink wine at meals; and 
Hesiod strongly recommended drinking undiluted wine for 
twenty days immediately before the rising of the Dog-star 
and for as many days after. The curious fact was observed 
that strong wine impeded the growth of apes and other 
quadrupeds, thus confirming the effect of gin on jockeys. 
The opinion also seemed to be unanimous that wine was 
better suited to males than females, to aged persons than to 
youths, to youths than children, and to persons inured to its 
effects than to those not drilled to the habit. Winter was held 
to be a better drinking season than summer. 

It seems that wine had no great reputation at Rome till 
about 600 years after the foundation of the city. Romulus 
used milk when he sacrificed to the Gods, and Numa forbade 
the sprinkling of the funeral fire with wine because of its 
scarcity. This may also have been the reason for the prejudice 
which existed against women drinking. 

"In ancient times women at Rome were not permitted to drink 
any wine. We read in the Chronicles that Egnatius Mecennius 
killed his own wife with a cudgel because he discovered her drinking 
wine out of a tun; and yet he was acquitted by Romulus of the mur- 
der. Fabius Pictor in his Annals reports that a certain Roman dame, 
a woman of good worship, was famished and pined to death by her 
own kinsfolk for opening a cupboard in which the keys of the wine 
cellar lay. And Cato records that the custom arose that kinsfolk 
should kiss women when they met them in order to know by their 
breath whethers they smelled of Temetum (for so they termed Wine 
in those days, and drunkenness was called in Latin, Temulentia). 
Cn. Domitius ( a judge in Rome) in a similar case pronounced 
sentence against a woman defendant in this form 'That it seemed 
she had drunk more Wine without her husband's knowledge than 
was needful for the preservation of her health* and therefore that 
she should lose her dowry." [69] 

Cato is spoken of as very sparing of wine and a worthy 
example of moderation. After a victorious expedition into 



Spain he declared in a solemn speech, "No other wine have 
I drunk since I went than the very mariners have". "How 
unlike the men of these days", exclaims Pliny in disgust at 
their meanness, "who sitting at the table have their cup of 
strong wine by themselves and give other small wines to their 
guests; or if they allow them the best at the beginning of the 
feast serve them with worse soon after!" Then he adds: 

"When men are heavy with wine, then (I say) the secrets of the 
heart are opened and laid abroad. Some in the midst of their cups: 
disclose the provisions of their wills, even at the board as they sit; 
others cast out bloody and deadly speeches at random and cannot 
avoid blurting out words which afterwards they have to eat again 
with the sword's point, for thus many a man by a lavish tongue in 
his wine has come by his death and had his throat cut. And verily 
the world is now grown to this pass that whatever a man says in his 
cups is held for truth. As if Truth were the daughter of the Vinel 

"But say they escape these dangers, they certainly speed none 
too well. The best of them never see the sun rising, so drowsy and 
sleepy are they in bed every morning. Neither do they live to be 
old men but die in the strength of their youth. Some of them look 
pale, with a pair of flabby swollen cheeks; others have bleared and 
sore eyes; and some shake so with their hands that they cannot hold 
a full cup but shed and pour it down the floor. Generally they all 
dream fearfully (which is the very beginning of their hell in this 
life) or else have restless nights. And yet our jolly drunkards give 
out and say that they alone enjoy this life and rob other men of it. 
But who does not perceive that ordinarily they lose not only the 
yesterday past but the morrow to come? It is a property that 
necessarily follows this vice that the more a man drinks, the more 
he may, and is always dry/' [70] 

There were nearly a hundred different kinds of wine, fifty 
described as "generous". The Falernian was the most famous, 
although Augustus preferred the Setmian, as causing no in- 
digestion or flatulence. Some wines received a curious rough 
flavour from the smoke of the blacksmith's forge, and for 
these Tiberius had a partiality. Then there were the foreign 
wines, some of them seasoned with salt water possibly 
because of their excessive sweetness; the grapes, in Greece 



especially, were generally left on the vine to dry in the sun, 
which would give the quality of a raisin wine. The colours 
varied between white, brown, blood-coloured and black. 
Persian wines were usually prepared with myrrh. 

It was a well observed fact that wines which had been 
carried across the seas appeared to be twice the age they 
would otherwise have been a precedent for Madeira being 
carried round the world. In Africa, too, they neutralised 
acidity with gypsum and lime, a process Sir John Falstaff 
detected when he declared that there was "lime in the sack". 
In Greece they "imparted briskness" with powdered marble, 

salt, and resin. 

The wine was kept in hooped wooden vessels and deposited 
in cellars. In winter when it was liable to freeze and the casks 
might be burst, fires were lighted to maintain an even tempera- 
ture. In more temperate climates dolia, or oblong vessels used 
as vats, were buried in the earth, a custom that has been 
recorded in the familiar lines: 

"Oh for a draught of vintage, that hath been 

Cooled a long age in the deep-delved earth, 

Tasting of Flora and the country green, 

Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth! 

Full of the true, and blushful Hippocrene." 

Then there were home-made liquors, made from the ripe 
grain of millet, from the sap of the palm, from the fig, pears 
and apples, from pomegranates, medlars, dried mulberries and 
pine-nuts. A beverage from wormwood reminds us of the 
flavouring of vermouth. Mead was also drunk. 1 Lastly, a 
series of wines complete the list in which the radish, asparagus, 
parsley-seed, catmint and horehound figure with a little 
sea water added when required. There was a rose wine, beside 
a number of "aromatic" drinks, presumably non-alcoholic, 
concocted from various flavourings used in confectionery. 
Amongst them a pepper beverage which may have approxi- 
mated to our Ginger Ale. 

1 Pliny mentions that a wine was made out of the Lotus fruit resembling mead, 
probably very heady. It would not keep longer than ten days. It is thought that this 
was the wine which proved such a temptation to the sailors of Ulysses. 



Did the Romans smoke as well as drink? Whether they 
smoked for pleasure is doubtful. That they inhaled fumes to 
relieve such discomforts as asthma is certain. The root of the 
coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara, from tussis, a cough), was burnt 
upon cypress wood and the smoke inhaled through a "pipe 
or tunnel" into the mouth, a remedy said to be "singular for 
an old cough 5 '. Sandarach, or red orpiment, was a less agree- 
able smoking mixture recommended medicinally. The wise 
advice is given that "between every pipe you must sip a pretty 
draught of sweet wine", an anticipation of the associations of 
tobacco for other than hygienic reasons. 

Dame Ceres, we have seen, was said to have invented the 
growing of corn and the baking of bread. In the early days 
every Roman citizen had his bread baked at home by the 
womenfolk. After the Persian war professional bakers set 
up their establishments in Rome. A large choice of bread and 
cakes was then offered, such fancy varieties as Artologanus 
(pancake, fritter or fine cake-bread), Spensticus ("hasty" 
bread, made in a hurry), breads eaten with different viands 
(for example, an Oyster-bread, which presumably would be 
brown), light pastry, breakfast rolls in which the dough was 
mixed with milk, eggs and butter, a Parthian cake with raisins 
in it, and another kind to be met with at the great houses 
"after the manner of simnels" that is, made with a special 

One is surprised to come across the invention of harvesting 
machines, an early example of putting the cart before the horse: 

"As touching the manner of cutting down and reaping corn, 
there are many devices. In France, where the fields are large, they 
use to set a jade or an ass unto the tail of a mighty great wheelbarrow 
or cart made in the manner of a Van the same set with keen and 
trenchant teeth sticking out on both sides. This car is driven for- 
ward before the said beast (yoked behind it) upon two wheels into 
the standing ripe corn, contrary to the manner of other carts that 
are drawn after. The teeth or sharp tines fastened to' the sides of the 
wheelbarrow or car catch hold of the corn ears and cut them off, so 
that they fall presently into the body of the wheelbarrow. In some 



places it is the fashion to cut with a hook or scythe the straw in the 
middle; and between every two sheaves they sit down and then crop 
off the ears just at the straw. In other countries they pluck the 
standing corn up by the root. In doing so they are persuaded that 
this is a very ready way to save charges and may serve for a light 
tilth or turning up of the ground: but, by their leave, they rob the 
ground of her kind and natural moisture. The reason of this 
diversity is this. In countries where they thatch their houses with 
straw, they save it to the full length and keep the longest haulms 
for that purpose. 

"Concerning the device of thrashing in some places they crush 
the corn out of the ears with heavy and rugged machines drawn over 
it as it lies on the barn floor. In others they set Mares to stamp and 
trample it under their feet and so drive it out. And there are again 
some who beat and flap it forth with flails or cudgels.'* [71] 

The finest wheat was grown in Upper Egypt where the 
seed was laid on the slime left by the Nile and then ploughed 
in, the harvest being completed in May. In Babylonia the 
fertility of the soil was even greater. There the overflow of 
the Euphrates and Tigris was regulated by sluices and flood- 
gates. In Italy the soil needed much harder manual labour, 
and it was held to be no disgrace for the greatest soldiers in 
the land to cultivate their fields in peace time. 

"What was the cause of so much plenty and abundance in those 
days? Truly this and nothing else than that great lords and generals 
of the field themselves tilled their ground with their own hands. 
And the Earth for her part, taking no small pleasure (as it were) to 
be broken up with ploughs Laureat (crowned with wreaths of laurel) 
and ploughmen Triumphant, strained herself to yield increase to 
the uttermost. It is likely also that these brave and worthy person- 
ages were as curious in sowing a ground with corn as in ordinance 
of a battle in array; as diligent (I say) in disposing and ordering their 
lands as in pitching of a field. Was not Serranus (when the honour- 
able dignity of Consulship was presented to him with commission 
to conduct the Roman army) found sowing his own field and plant- 
ing trees, whereupon he took that surname Serranus? As for Quin- 
tius Cincinnatus a pursuivant or messenger of the Senate brought 
him the letters patent of his Dictatorship when he was in proper 



person ploughing a piece of ground of his own, containing four 
acres and no more, lying within the Vatican. And (as it is reported) 
he was not only bareheaded and open breasted but also all naked 
and full of dust The foresaid officer or sergeant finding him in this 
manner: 'Do on your clothes, Sir', quote he, 'and cover your body, 
that I may deliver unto you die charge that I have from the Senate 
and people of Rome.' In those days Pursuivants and Sergeants were 
named Viatores, for they were often sent to fetch both Senators and 
captain Generals out of the fields where they were at work. But now 
see how the times are changed! Those that do this business in the 
field, what are they but bondslaves fettered, condemned malefactors 
manacled and, in one word, noted persons and such as are branded 
and marked in their visage with an hot iron? Howbeit, the Earth, 
whom we call our Mother, is not so deaf and senseless but she knows 
well enough how she is deprived of that honour which was done 
unto her, yea, that travail in former times of great Captains and 
Lord Generals." [72] 

The wine-press, also, had its own evolution. Some used 
only a single plank for pressing the grapes. Pliny gives it as 
his opinion that it is better to have two planks, as long as 
possible. In the old days they employed ropes, leather thongs 
and levers, by means of which they pulled and pressed down 
tl\e planks. Within the last hundred years, however, the 
Greek press had been invented in which the main plank of the 
press was forced down by a screw worked by a windlass in 
the form of a star. 

The best way to cut hay was a difficult matter to solve. 
Some watered their meadows the day before they set scythe 
into them if there was a brook at hand. Otherwise they waited 
for a heavy dew. One of the chief difficulties was to keep the 
scythes sharp enough. The whetstones from Crete needed 
oil to get a fine edge "as barbers do their razors, and gravers 
their fine chisels and carving irons". The mower therefore 
had to have a horn of oil tied fast to his shank. A whetstone, 
or "grindstone", was later discovered in Italy which they 
could use with water. These were found to be more expeditious 
and became generally used. 

Ancient craftsmanship in metal was another fruitful field 


for inventions; working in gold especially has presented many 
curious problems. In the ancient Etruscan jewellery, of which 
specimens are extant, minute granules of gold were in some 
manner or other soldered on to sheets of gold, often in 
intricate patterns outlined with gold wire. The granules 
are obviously too minute to be soldered separately, yet it is 
seen that they could be arranged in straight or curved lines 
with amazing exactness and apparently with ease. The women 
wore hairpins surmounted with round golden balls encrusted 
with these fine granulations. Pliny gives no clue as to the 
manner in which this work was executed. His description of 
gold soldering is inconclusive because he uses the word 
"Chrysocolla" to signify either borax or verdigris (acetate 
of copper). The discussion of the question, is however, too 
technical to enter into fully here; but the so-called "Green 
Borax" is of interest for other reasons. This was one of the 
vivid carbonates, or hydrocarbonates of copper, resembling 
in colour "the deep and full green that is in the blade of corn*'. 
Nero spread the whole floor of the Grand Circus at Rome 
with it when he intended to run a chariot race himself. Then 
he "took pleasure to drive his horses upon a ground suitable 
to the colour of the cloth of livery that he wore himself at 
that time." A curious parallel with this green ground exists 
in the "Green Mount" of Kublai Khan, as it was described by 
Marco Polo in the thirteenth century. There the whole of the 
mount was covered with green verdigris so that the ground, 
the trees and the green palace on the top presented one uni- 
form scheme of colouring. Evidently this brilliant turquoise 
tone was considered supremely beautiful throughout the 
ancient world. 

Some interesting information is given about rings. Accord- 
ing to tradition Prometheus invented the first ring, as he had 
about his finger a band of iron in which was mounted a frag- 
ment of the rock Caucasus to which he was bound. Pliny 
dismisses the story as a fabulous tale, only to be equalled by 
the story that King Midas had a magic ring which he could 
turn round and so make himself invisible. 



The Roman soldiers wore iron rings to show that they 
were skilful and expert in feats of arms. Tarquin seems to 
have been the first to present a gold medal on the occasion 
when his son, not yet sixteen years of age, killed a man in 
battle. After that gold medals and ribands became recognised 
as badges of knighthood and chivalry to distinguish the 
wearers from other men's sons. 

An odd custom prescribed that only iron rings must be 
worn indoors. This was the reason why even in Pliny's day 
the wedding ring which the bridegroom conferred on the 
bride was not of gold, but of iron without any stone in it. 

Here is a fuller account which gives a precedent for ecclesi- 
astical usages and also the early equivalent for carrying on the 
person a master key. 

"It was the custom in old times to wear rings on one finger only, 
namely, that which is the fourth or next to the little finger, as we 
can see in the statues of Numa and Servius Tullius, Kings of Rome. 
But afterwards they began to honour the forefinger which is next 
the thumb with a ring, according to the manner we see in the images 
of the gods. In the process of time they were pleased to wear them 
upon the least finger of all, and it is said that in France and Britain 
they used them upon the middle finger. But this finger nowadays is 
excepted only, whereas all the rest are charged with them, yea and 
every joint by themselves must have some lesser rings to fit them. 
Some will have the little finger laden with three rings: others content 
themselves with one and no more upon it, with which they seal up 
the signet-ring itself, this last being carefully shut up safe among 
other rare and precious things. This might not come abroad every 
day, as being a jewel that deserved not to be misused by careless 
handling, but to be taken out of the cabinet or secret closet only 
when need required. So that whoever wears one ring and no more 
on the least finger gives the world to understand that he has a secret 
cabinet at home stored with some special things more costly and 
precious than ordinary. Now, just as some take a pride and pleasure 
in having heavy rings upon their fingers and to make a show how 
weighty they are, so others again are so fine and delicate that they 
think it a pain to wear more than one. You will find many who 
carry poison hidden within the collet under the stone, as Demos- 



thenes, that renowned prince of Greek orators, did, so that their 
rings serve no other purpose than to carry their own death about 
with them." [73] 

Tin was a highly serviceable metal imported from France, 
Spain and Britain. The ancient Britons conveyed it in "little 
twiggen boats covered all over with feathers" the coracles 
used on the Severn and off the South-west coast of England. 
"What may surprise many readers is that the modern process 
of * 'tinning" was well known. Here is the description: 
"There is a device to tin pots, pans and other pieces of brass 
(or copper) so artificially with white lead or tinglass (an inven- 
tion that came out of France) that a man can hardly discern 
them from vessels of silver: and such leaded vessels are com- 
monly called Incoctilia that is, inboiled or coated by im- 
mersion in molten tin". Even the experiment of putting 
melted tin into a sheet of paper is described, and the fact 
pointed out that the paper will break with the weight, but 
not with the "scalding heat", of the metal. That is perfectly 
true; it is as a matter of fact possible to fuse tin or lead in 
paper so long as the paper is wrapped sufficiently tightly 
round the metal. 

A great feature was made of silver mirrors, the metal being 
used in its purest form. The ancients were greatly impressed 
by the marvel that these polished mirrors, clouded to our 
modern sophisticated eye, should represent so perfectly the 
image of people and things. It was understood that the 
reflection was a kind of reverberation, or driving back, of the 
image which itself was only the brightness and clearness of 
the surface receiving it; a subtle explanation which seems to 
suggest a materialisation of the image. Play was made with 
both concave and convex surfaces. Drinking cups were made 
with a number of facets so as to multiply the reflections; and 
looking-glasses in the temple at Smyrna were constructed 
expressly with the object of distorting and reflecting mon- 
strous shapes, presumably not in order to amuse, as in the 
Fun Fairs, but to impress with a sense of the prodigious. In 
more secular directions drinking pots were made with curved 


bellies which no doubt succeeded in promoting hilarity among 
the company who saw their features pleasantly caricatured. 

Of dishes in pottery mention is made of the ware that came 
from Tralles 3 a city in Sclavonia. This was of such good 
quality that it was imported in considerable quantities. 

"But of the kind wrought with the wheel the daintiest come from 
Erythrag. In the principal temple of that city to-day two earthen 
vessels are to be seen, thought worthy to be consecrated there in 
regard of their clean work and their thinness. A master and his 
prentice made them in a contest to see which of them could drive 
his earth thinnest. 

"To let you know that vessels of earth have been in request 
among riotous gluttons and wasteful spend thriftslisten to what 
Fenestella says about the greatest and gaudiest fare at a feast served 
up in three platters of courses, called Tripatinum. The first was of 
Lampreys, the second of Pikes, the third of the fish Myxon (a 
mixture); from which it may appear that in those days men began 
at Rome to give themselves to riot and superfluity. Yet we may 
prefer them even before the Philosophers of Greece, for it is written 
that in the sale of Aristotle's goods, which his heirs made after his 
decease, there were sold sixty platters which ordinarily went about 
the house. One platter of JEsop, the player in tragedies, cost 
600,000 sesterces; but this is nothing (I assure you) to that charger 
of Vitellius which, while he was Emperor, he had made at a cost of 
a million of sesterces; for it there was a furnace on purpose in a 
field. Alluding to this monstrous platter Mutianus in his second 
Consulship (when in a public speech he ripped up the whole life of 
Vitellius, now dead) upbraided his memory in these very terms, 
calling his excess that way, Patinarum paludes, i.e. Platters as broad 
as pools. [74] 


Magic and Religion 

PLINY was no atheist. He believed in a power that dealt 
justly with evil-doers, and followed Aristotle in visualising 
Nature as a spirit of divine energy operating in the world 
natura naturans, a principle of Nature creating nature. There- 
fore the history, which he undertook, in his estimation ex- 
pressed the highest achievement open to the human understand- 
ing. Pliny's beliefs as a Stoic led him not so much to explain 
how creation came about as to describe the results attained. 
There was also the strong ethical position of Stoicism which 
impelled him to speak of God as a Principle, since he regarded 
it as an admission of man's weakness to assign to Him a form 
or image. He sums up his creed in these words: "Whoever 
He be and in what part soever resident, is all sense, all sight, 
all hearing, all life, all soul, all within Himself." 

Thus it was only to be expected that the mass of supersti- 
tion of the ancient world left him cold and often contemptu- 
ous. 1 Frail and crazy men, he urged, had always worshipped 
any number of gods, choosing to honour only those of whom 
they stood most in need. He was prepared to accept only so 
much as fitted in with his scientific ideas. The rest is dismissed 
the crude view of a numerous family of gods and goddesses, 
agitated by human passions, contracting marriages, having 
children, being aged or young, black in complexion (an un- 

1 Plutarch shared Pliny's views on the ill-effects of superstition when he speaks 
of the fears of supernatural influence which constantly haunted Alexander the Great: 
"So miserable a tiling is incredulity and contempt of divine power on the one hand, 
and so miserable, also, superstition on the other, which like water, where the level 
has been lowered, flowing in and never stopping, fills the mind with slavish fears and 



expected association, undoubtedly derived from African 
sources which left traces in Europe), winged, or lame, or 
hatched of eggs 'These beliefs, I say, are mere fooleries, 
little better than childish toys. Whereas in very truth a god 
unto a man is he that helps a man: and this is the true and direct 
pathway to everlasting glory". 

Roman thought was essentially tolerant. Matters of opinion 
were taken at their face value and polemics rarely indulged in, 
extreme views being avoided so far as possible as evidences of 
unbalanced fanaticism. Beneath the surface of Pliny's writings 
is the sense of the inevitable, a philosophy which taught him 
to accept the world with its faults, failures and astonishing 
wonders without enquiring too deeply into ultimate causes. 
His path lay in a simple application to duty which involved a 
life-long devotion to the State and to learning. Yet we see a 
glimpse of a higher understanding when he reflects that it is 
good, expedient and profitable to know that the gods have a 
care of man's estate, and "that the vengeance and punishment 
of malefactors may well come late (while God is busily occu- 
pied otherwise in so huge a frame of the world) but never 
misses in the end". God, in the words of St. Paul, is not 

False astronomical theory has been responsible for much 
of the magic of the ancient world. Among the Mexicans the 
enormous scale of human sacrifice was intended simply to 
supply the sun with energy sufficient to continue its duties, 
as if it were as necessary to stoke the sun with blood as to 
stoke a locomotive with coal. The primary object of wars 
was to obtain a sufficient number of victims. 

In the Greco-Roman world the blood-lust was not carried 
to such an extreme pitch. The Greeks, in fact, were distin- 
guished as a race for a comparatively harmless and poetic form 
of magic, since their mythology was built on essentially 
humane lines. Pliny says he is surprised that Homer had not 
more to say about magic; yet he admits that when Homer 
discourses of Ulysses and his adventurous travels one would 
think that the whole work consisted of nothing else but magic 


the transformations of Proteus, the songs of the mermaids 
and the famous enchantresses. "As for what he relates of Lady 
Circe, how she wrought her feats by conjuration only and 
raising up infernal spirits, surely it savours of Magic art and 
nothing else." 

Cannibalism in connection with human sacrifices was one 
of the worst abuses of magic, and on this point Pliny speaks 
authoritatively. In the 657th year after the foundation of 
Rome these sacrifices were forbidden by law. In France also 
they were stopped by Tiberius who "put down the Druids, 
together with all the pack of such physicians, prophets and 
wizards". As to Britain there is a passage (with Philemon 
Holland's comments) which points to the beneficial results of 
the Roman culture. 

"Truly in Britain at this day magic is highly honoured, where the 
people are so wholly devoted to it, with all reverence and religious 
observation of ceremonies, that a man would think the Persians 
first learnt all their Magic from them (as it appears by our old Eng- 
lish Chronicles, which wrote of King Arthur, the Knights of the 
Round Table, and Merlin the prophet or magician). See how this 
Art and the practice thereof is spread over the face of the whole 
earth! And see how those nations [Holland instances England, 
Scotland and Ireland, where in old time Magic bare a great sway and 
witches still swarm too much] who in all other respects are far 
different are conformable on this one point! In which regard the 
benefit is inestimable, that the world has received from our Romans, 
for they have abolished these monstrous and abominable Arts which 
under the show of religion murdered men for sacrifices to please the 
gods; and under the colour of Physic prescribed the flesh to be eaten 
as most wholesome meat." [75] 

Here is indicated the primary motive of cannibalism the 
belief that the strength and vitality of another person, such 
as a stricken enemy or unfortunate victim, could be absorbed 
by an act of assimilation into the system. 

But if cannibalism was stamped out, the revolting custom of 
blood-drinking remained. Miss Petowker's famous recitation 
was at least based on historical evidence, and the Gothic 



warriors in the paradise of Odin caroused on the blood of 
their enemies drunk from their own skulls. Pliny gives us 
instances of the prevalence of the same habit. Mithridates 
recommended the blood of the ducks of Pontus to be drunk 
as an infallible antidote against poison. At ^Egina the priestess, 
when about to prophesy the future, used to indulge in a draught 
of bull's blood before she descended into the cavern. 1 A 
different kind of story was that Drusus, a tribune of the people, 
drank goat's blood to produce pallor, in order to throw the 
suspicion of being poisoned on his rival, Q. Coepio. The 
worst and most disgusting example of all was the drinking 
of the blood of the dying gladiator in the arena. 

The Black Art came from the East. Nero at one time 
dabbled in it, under expert and royal instruction, but met 
with no apparent success. As his experiments proved a failure 
he returned to the form of religion practised at Rome. From 
this it seems conclusive that the power of magic broke down 
utterly as soon as the belief in it vanished. 

"There are many sorts of Magic, as Osthanes has set down in 
writing; for it works by the means of "Water (hydromantia), Globes 
or Balls (sphaeromantia), Air (aeromantia), Stars (astrologia), Fire- 
lights (pyromantia), Basins (buanomantia), and Axes (axinomantia); 
means by which there promise the foreknowledge of things to come, 
also the raising up and conjuring of departed ghosts and conference 
with Familiars and infernal spirits. 

"All of these things were found out by the Emperor Nero in our 
days to be no better than vanities and vain illusions, and yet he was 
inclined to study the Magical art as assiduously as to play upon the 
cythern and to hear and sing tragic songs. Nor is it to be wondered 
at that he was given to such strange courses, having wealth and world 
at will and his fortune besides accompanied with many deep cor- 
ruptions of the mind. But amid those many vices to which he had 
sold himself he had a chief desire to command the gods (forsooth) 
and familiar spirits, thinking that if he could attain to that, then he 
had climbed to the highest point and pitch of magnanimity. There 
was never a man who studied harder and followed an art more 
earnestly than he did Magic. He had enough riches and power under 

1 Generally, however, bulls' blood was believed by the ancients to be poisonous. 



his hands, his wit was quick and pregnant to apprehend and learn 
anything, and yet he gave it over in the end; an undoubted and 
peremptory argument to convince the vanity of this Art, when such 
an one as Nero rejected it. 

"As to this Art-magic which Nero would so fain have learned, 
what might be the reason which he could not reach unto it? These 
Magicians are not without their shifts and means of evasion to save 
the credit of their Art; as, for instance, that ghosts and spirits will 
not appear nor yield any service to people who are freckled and full 
of pimples, and haply Nero was such an one. As for his limbs other- 
wise he had them all sound, and then besides he could choose at his 
good will and pleasure the set days and times fit for this practice. 
It was an easy matter, too, for him to meet with sheep coal black, 
and such as had not a speck of white or any other colour; and as to 
sacrificing men nothing gave him greater delight. Furthermore, he 
had about him Tyridates the King of Armenia, a great Magician, to 
give him instruction. This prince travelled to Rome all the way by 
land because he had a scruple and thought it unlawful (as all magi- 
cians do) either to spit into the sea or otherwise to discharge into it 
from men's bodies what might pollute and defile that Element. He 
instructed Nero in the principles of Magic, yea and admitted him to 
sacred feasts and solemn suppers to initiate him into the profession; 
but all to no purpose, for Nero could never receive at his hands the 
skill of this Science. Therefore we may be fully assured that it is a 
detestable and abominable Art, grounded on no certain rules, full 
of lies and vanities, for, to tell the truth, the certitude which it has in 
effecting anything proceeds rather from the devilish cast of poison- 
ing practised therewith than from the Art itself of Magic. But why 
need any man listen to the lies which the Magicians in old time have 
sent abroad, when I myself in my youth have seen and heard Apion 
(that great and famous Grammarian) tell strange tales of the herb 
Cynocephalia, that it has a divine and heavenly virtue as a preserva- 
tive against all poisons, charms and enchantments, but that whoever 
plucked it out of the ground could not escape instant death. The 
same Apion reported in my hearing that he had conjured up spirits 
to enquire of Homer what country he was born in, and from what 
parents he was descended; but he dared not say what answer was 
given." [ 7 6] 

Ordinary superstitions played a large part in Roman life 
and certain ideas strange to the modern mind were prevalent. 



One curious example was the custom for priests in a time of 
war to try to win over the gods or goddesses of besieged 
cities by promising them better quarters than they had 
enjoyed before. "For the same reason it was never divulged 
abroad what god was the protector and patron of Rome for 
fear lest some of our enemies should try to conjure him forth 
and deal by us as we do by them." 

Exceptionally solemn superstitions were connected with the 
foundation of a city a most important affair which could not 
be undertaken rashly without divine guidance. A grave, or 
tomb of some kind, was often looked upon as a palladium, or 
talisman, of a city probably a relic from an era of human 
sacrifice. On one occasion a man's head was discovered when 
the Romans were digging the foundations of Jupiter's temple 
on the Tarpeian rock. The senate wishing to know the signifi- 
cance of this strange portent sent to the wise men of Tuscany 
to enquire what it might mean. These experts adroitly tried 
to turn the incident to their own advantage by means of a 

"Olenus Calenus (who was reputed the most famous diviner and 
prophet of all the Tuscans) foreseeing the great felicity it imported, 
intended by a subtle interrogation to translate the benefit thereof to 
his own native country of Tuscany. So having first described with 
a staff the outline of a^t&nple on the ground before him he ques- 
tioned the Roman ambassadors in this wily manner. 'Is it so, 
Romans, as you say? Are these your words, that there must be a 
temple of Jupiter here, where we have lighted on a man's head?' 
Unto which interrogation the Roman ambassadors, according to the 
instructions they have received, answered in this manner. *No, not 
here in this very place, but at Rome (we say) the head was found.' 
Indeed, our ancient Chronicles constantly affirm that, had they not 
been forewarned what to say, the fortune of the Roman State and 
Empire had gone quite away to the Tuscans and been established 
among them," [77] 

This device of drawing a figure on the ground with a stick 
was used on another occasion when a Roman senator was sent 
to warn an intruding king off the territory of Egypt. When 

M 161 


the king hesitated to give a suitable answer the Roman drew 
a circle round him and intimated in plain terms that he should 
not move out of it until he had said yes or no. The threat 

The ordinary spells were very varied in their operation. 
All the pots and pans baking in a furnace would break if 
certain words were uttered. The oldest form of fire insurance 
was to write the words Averte Ignem on the walls. On the 
authority of Homer, Ulysses staunched his wound with a 
charm. M. Varro reported the virtue of certain good words 
for the gout; and Caesar having once had a carriage accident 
would never again ride in a coach without first pronouncing 
a charm which he used as a safeguard. 

Pliny asks in despair the reason for so many of these 
strange customs. Why do people wish each other a Happy 
New Year? Why are persons with good fortunate names 
chosen to lead the beasts appointed for sacrifice? (Disraeli on 
the same principle made it a rule to avoid unlucky men.) Also, 
the nil nisi lonum de mortuis maxim was not primarily intended 
as an example of good manners, or courtesy to the departed, 
as we should take it to be; but it was regarded rather as the 
safest policy to adopt for fear of reprisals from the spirits of 
the dead. 

"How is it that in mentioning those that are dead we protest that 
we have no wish to disquiet their ghosts or to say anything prejudi- 
cial to their good name and memorial? 

"If there is nothing in words, I would fain know why we have 
such an opinion of odd numbers, believing that they are more 
effectual than the even a matter, I may tell you, of great conse- 
quence in the critical days of fevers? 

"In the gathering of our first fruits, be they Pears, Apples or 
Figs why do we say, This is old, God send us new'? 

"What moves us to wish health and say 'God help, or bless, wlien 
one sneezes? Even Tiberius Caesar, who otherwise was known for 
a grim sir, and the most unsociable and melancholy man in the world, 
required in that manner to be saluted and wished well to, whenever 
he sneezed, though he were mounted in his chariot. Some salute the 



party ceremoniously by name and think there is a great point of 
religion in that." [78] 

Ears tingling, when people in our absence are talking of 
us, was a Roman superstition. There is no mention of saying 
"Bo" to a goose; but if you said "Duo" to a serpent it would 
be still and quiet and never shoot forth its sting. Here is a 
curious belief we have also inherited known to us as an 
"angel passing": 

"See how ceremonious those persons were and what precise 
usages they instituted in the belief that in all our affairs and actions, 
and at all times, the divine power of God was present and that by 
these means they pacified them for all our sins and vices. It has been 
remarked that often the table is hushed and no word heard from 
one end to the other when there is an even number present. What 
does this silence presage? Surely that everyone is in danger of los- 
ing or impairing his credit, good name and reputation." [79] 

Special precautions were taken about paring the nails on 
certain days. Hair should be cut only on the seventeenth or 
twenty-ninth day after the change of the moon. The peasant 
women had to be careful about spinning as they walked in the 
streets for fear of prejudicing the wheat harvest. Charms 
existed against hail-storms, burnings, scaldings and so many 
other things that Pliny confesses he is really abashed and 
ashamed to put them down in writing. 

Perhaps the most interesting passage of all is a reference to 
the Roman ceremonies. The insistence on precise ritual is 

"If a beast is killed without a set form of prayers it is to no pur- 
pose and held unlawful. Likewise, if these invocations are omitted 
when a man seeks an Oracle and would be directed in the wills of 
gods by beasts' bowels or otherwise, the gods would be displeased. 
Moreover, the words used in entreating something at their hands 
run in one form: exorcisms to divert their ire and to turn away some 
imminent plagues are framed after another sort: also there are proper 
terms of address serving for meditation and contemplation. 

"We see, too, how our highest magistrates use a preamble of 
certain set prayers. So strict and precise are people in this point 



about divine service that for fear lest some words should be left out 
or pronounced out of order, a prompter is appointed purposely to 
read the same before the priest, out of a written book, so that he 
miss not a tittle. Another is also set near his elbow as a keeper to 
observe and mark that he fail not in any ceremony or circumstance. 
And a third is ordained to go before and make silence, saying to the 
whole assembly and congregation Favete linguis (i.e. spare your 
tongues and be silent); and then the flutes and hautboys begin to 
sound and play, to the end that nothing be heard to trouble his 
mind or interrupt him the while. Indeed there have been memorable 
examples of strange accidents and of cases where the unlucky fowls 
by their untoward noise have disturbed and done hurt, or some error 
has been committed in the prescribed prayer and exorcism; the 
result being that all of a sudden while the beast stood before the 
altar the lobe of the liver is found missing among the entrails, or the 
heart missing or doubled. 

"Now if this is received as an undoubted truth, and if we admit 
that the gods hear some prayers or are moved by any words, then 
surely we may conclude affirmatively on the main question. Cer- 
tainly our ancestors have always believed and delivered such 
principles; yea, and that which seems most incredible, that by the 
power of such charms and conjurations thunder and lightning 
have been fetched down from above. 

"L. Piso reports in the first book of his Annals that Tullus 
Hostilius, King of Rome, was struck dead with lightning, because 
when he went about to call Jupiter down out of heaven by a sacrifice 
which King Numa was accustomed to use he had not observed 
exactly all the exorcisms and ceremonial words contained in those 
books of King Numa, but swerved somewhat from them." [80] 

With regard to unlucky omens 1 one saving remark demands 
attention, to the effect that it was a principle of the Augurs' 
discipline and learning that such omens (especially in connec- 
tion with the flight, singing or feeding of birds) could not 
touch people who declared with conviction that they paid no 

1 The basis of the reasoning about omens was that everything that happens is a 
sign of something that is going to happen. The art of divination had not to do with 
mere chance occurrences; and the reason why attention was only drawn to such birds 
as the eagle and the raven was that acquaintance with the other birds was too slight 
to warrant the foretelling of future events. Every movement, in point of fact, of 
living creatures on encountering people was held to be significant of something 
imminent. The essence of the omen lay in the observation. 



attention to them and were not afraid of them. As Pliny puts 
it, this was "a testimony of the divine indulgence and favour 
of the gods in thus subjecting their secrets to our puissance". 
In other words, it was laid down that the efficacy of portents 
and signs depended on the question of how much reality people 
attached to them a very comforting doctrine, he adds, with 
regard to human destinies. 

Another aspect of Roman religion was its close association 
with open-air life, the recurrence of the seasons and the har- 
vests. Great festivals celebrated the cycle of the year. The 
spirits of the countryside became the family deities; and 
Jupiter was the lord of the air in company with the gods of the 
Greek mythology. No oaths were taken under a roof, not 
even under the roof of a temple. Deep in the hearts of the 
Roman people religion was felt as the sense of awe inspired by 
a spirit-world existing in close contact with the phenomena of 
Nature. The trees were "the first temples of the gods". The 
beech was sacred to Jupiter, the laurel to Apollo, the olive to 
Minerva, the myrtle to Venus, the poplar to Hercules. Fauns 
and Nymphs held the tutelage of the woods. Paganism was the 
simple religion of the pagani, the peasant population, who 
cultivated the old forms of nature worship. An unsophisticated 
form of piety thus became habitual to the people, capable of 
cementing the family under the general beneficence of the 
fatherhood of the sky, the motherhood of the earth, the di 
agrestes and the lares familiares all combining in a scheme 
at once romantic and intimate. 

Taking a few phases of this somewhat intricate scheme we 
observe the elaborate symbolism which grew up around the 
things that grew out of the earth. The laurel, for example, 
illustrates many curious associations religious, medical, mili- 
tary and cultural connected with this most noble and sacred 
of trees. 

"The Laurel betokens peace. When a branch is held among 
armed enemies, it is a sign of quietness and cessation from arms. 
Moreover, the Romans were wont to send their missive letters 
adorned with Laurel when they announced good news or joyful 


victory. Also they garnished their lances, pikes and spears with it; 
and the fasces borne before grand captains and generals of the army 
were beautified and set out with Bay branches. With it they stick 
and bedeck the bosom of that most great and gracious Jupiter, as 
often as there is news of some late and fresh victory. And all this 
honour is done to the Laurel, not because it is always green, nor 
that it shows peace (for in both these respects the Olive is to be 
preferred before it) but because it is the fairest and goodliest tree 
that grows on the mountain Parnassus and was pleasing to Apollo. 
Another reason may be because it is the only plant set out of doors 
or brought into the house which is not blasted and smitten with 
lightning. It was not permitted by men in old time to pollute 
either Laurel or Olive in any profane use; so much so that they 
might not burn them on their altars when they sacrificed or offered 
Incense, though it were to do honour to the gods and appease their 
wrath and indignation. It is evident that the Bay tree leaves, by the 
crackling they make in the fire, seem to detest and abhor it. It cures 
moreover the diseases of the guts; also the lassitude and weariness 
of the sinews. It is reported that Tiberius used always to wear a 
chaplet when it thundered, for fear of being struck with lightning. 
Moreover, certain strange and memorable events touching the Bay 
tree have happened about Augustus Caesar. For Livia Drusilla 
(who afterwards by marriage with the said Augustus became 
Empress and was honoured with the title of Augusta) when she 
was affianced to Caesar chanced, as she was sitting still, to have an 
exceeding white Hen light into her lap (which an Eagle flying aloft 
let fall from on high) without any harm at all to the said pullet. 
Now when this lady considered well the Hen, without being aston- 
ished at so miraculous a sight, she perceived that the Hen held in 
her bill a Laurel branch full of Bay berries. The Wizards and Sooth- 
sayers were consulted about this wonderful occurrence and advised 
in the end to preserve the bird and the brood thereof; likewise to 
plant the branch and duly to tend and look unto it. Both these 
things were executed accordingly about a certain country house 
on the River Tiber belonging to the Caesars near the Flaminian 
Way, about nine miles from Rome: which house was called, Ad 
Gallinas, as a man would say, the Sign of the Hens. Well, the branch 
mightily prospered and proved afterwards to be a grove of Laurels 
which all came from that first stock. 

"In process of Time, Augustus, when he entered in Triumph 



into Rome, carried in his hand a branch of that Bay tree, yea, and 
wore a chaplet upon his head of the same; and so did all the 
Emperors and Caesars his successors after him. Hence arose the 
custom to plant again those branches of Laurel that Emperors held 
in their hands when they triumphed; and whole woods and groves 
are thus distinguished; each by their several names, and were 
therefore called Triumphal. And to conclude, this would be re- 
solved and agreed upon by the way, that if a branch or slip is set, 
it will prosper and become a tree, although Democritus and Theo- 
phrastus make some doubt thereof." [81] 

A tradition existed that certain trees had "continued time 
out of mind and lived infinitely". Of these immortals were 
a few famous Olive trees and a Myrtle that was said to guard 
the ghost of Scipio Africanus with the aid of a dragon living 
in a cave or hole underneath. Sometimes victorious generals 
were crowned with a chaplet of myrtle; and one particular 
variety was called Conjugula because of an association with 
wedlock. The myrtle was certainly a versatile plant or tree; 
for out of it were made garden arbours and from its fruit a 
wine, and also an oil which professed to have valuable medi- 
cinal properties. But its most striking merit was its adaptability 
for use as a walking stick: "if a wayfaring man that has a 
great journey to go on foot carry in his hand a stick or rod of 
the Myrtle tree, lie shall never be weary, nor think his way 
long and tedious." An admirable idea if only it could be true. 

And just as the laurel was the decorative object of veneration 
in the South of Europe, so in the North the mistletoe became 
the plant of mysticism, worshipped as a godlike thing. But 
it is France, not Britain, where mention is made of the cere- 
monies performed by the Druids. When Julius Caesar wished 
to punish the inhabitants of Marseilles he ordered his soldiers 
to cut down a grove of Druid oaks, as the most significant 
means of displaying his power. So greatly did his men fear 
the trees that they expected their axes to glance off and wound 

"The Druids (for thus they call their Diviners, Wise men and 
the state of their Clergy) esteem nothing more sacred in the world 



than Mistletoe, and the tree whereupon it breeds, so it be on Oak. 
Now this you must take by the way: these Priests or Clergy chose 
such groves for their divine service as stood only upon Oaks and 
they solemnise no sacrifice nor perform any sacred ceremonies 
without branches and leaves thereof; so they may seem to be well 
named Dryidae in Greek, which signifies Oak-priests. Whatever 
they find growing on that tree over and above its own fruit, be it 
Mistletoe or anything else, they esteem it as a gift from the gods. 
And no marvel, for indeed Mistletoe is passing geason (rare) and 
hard to find on the Oak; but when they meet with it, they gather it 
very devoutly and with many ceremonies. First and foremost, 
they observe principally that the moon be just six days old, because 
she is thought then to be of great power and sufficient force and is 
not yet come to her half-light and the end of her first quarter. They 
call it in their language 'All Heal 5 (for they have an opinion that it 
cures all maladies) and when they are about to gather it they bring 
two milk-white young bullocks such as never yet drew in yoke at 
plough or wain, and whose heads were then, and not before, bound 
by the horn. Which done, the priest arrayed in a surplice or white 
vesture climbs up into the tree and with a golden hook or bill cuts 
it off, then they beneath receive it in a white soldier's cassock or 
coat of arms. Presently they fall to kill the beasts aforesaid for 
sacrifice, mumbling many orisons and praying devoutly that it will 
please God to bless this gift of his to the good and benefit of all 
those to whom he has vouchsafed to give it. Now this persuasion 
they have of Mistletoe thus gathered that what living creature 
soever (otherwise barren) do drink of it, will presently become 
fruitful; also, that it is a sovereign counter-poison or singular 
remedy against all vermin. So vain and superstitious are many 
nations in the world, and often times in such frivolous and foolish 
things as these." [82] 

These beliefs were in accordance with the views of the 
Greek philosophers who held that trees had a soul or spirit and 
were possessed of sense and intelligence. From this angle of 
thought the fir became a tree of mourning, and a branch of it 
was set up at the doors of a house where a corpse lay. It was 
also a churchyard tree and was planted in the places where 
bodies were burnt. 

The ash was the most magical tree of all. It was associated 



with witchcraft, although it is not certain whether the brooms 
on which witches flew came from it. The shrew-ash may have 
had its origin from this superstition. A shrew mouse buried 
alive in the trunk was said to ensure a cure for rheumatism. 
Pliny says that the leaves were deadly to horses and mules, but 
harmless to animals that chewed the cud. As to snakes, they 
had such an aversion that if they were put within a circle of 
ash leaves in any place where there was a lighted fire they 
would throw themselves into the fire sooner than come in 
contact with the leaves. Their shape seems to have some 
strange mystical meaning. 

Trees shared with birds the power of foretelling events. 
Many cases, we are told, were mentioned in the old chronicles 
of trees falling, without wind or tempest, simply as warnings. 
An old elm in the grove of Juno fell at Nuceria during the 
wars against the Cimbrians; but as it fell on the altar of Juno 
it rose of its own accord and soon after put forth blossoms 
and flourished. From that moment the success of the Roman 
arms revived. Recoveries of trees in similar auspicious circum- 
stances always meant good luck. Once a plane-tree fell and 
its trunk was squared by a carpenter; yet it rose nevertheless 
and recovered its former greenness and lived. 

If the habit of a tree changed from better to worse a 
garden olive, for example, degenerating into the wild state, 
or a white vine, or white fig tree growing black fruit that 
was counted an unlucky sign. Here are a few other marvels: 

"A little before the civil war broke out between Julius Cassar and 
Pompey the Great, an ominous sight was reported presaging no 
good from the territory of Cumae, namely, that a great tree there 
sank down into the earth so deep that a very little of the top boughs 
was to be seen. Upon which the prophetical books of Sibylla were 
perused and it was found that this prodigy portended some great 
carnage of men and that the nearer this slaughter and execution 
should be to Rome, the greater would the bloodshed be. 

"Another wonder is when trees grow in places where they were 
not wont to be and which are not agreeable to their natures; as on 
the chapters of pillars, heads of statues or on altars. About the 



time of the civil war a Date tree grew out of the base or foot of a 
column that Csesar Dictator caused to be erected there. Also at 
Rome, twice during the war against King Perseus, a Date tree was 
known to grow on the lantern or top of the Capitol temple (or, as 
some read, out of the head of Jupiter within the Capitol) thus fore- 
showing the victories and triumphs which afterwards ensued, to the 
great honour of the people of Rome. When this tree was over- 
thrown by storms and tempests there sprang up in the same place 
a Fig tree at the time when Messala and Cassius, the two Censors, 
held the Quinquennial solemn sacrifices for the purging of the city 
of Rome: from which time Piso (a renowned Historiographer and 
writer of good credit) has noted that the Romans were given over 
to voluptuousness and sensuality, and that ever since all chastity 
and honest life have been exiled. But the greatest prodigy ever seen 
or heard happened in our age about the time that Nero the Emperor 
came to his unhappy end and fall; for in the Marrucine territory 
there was an Olive garden belonging to Vectius Marcellus, a right 
worshipful knight of Rome, which of itself bodily crossed the 
broad highway to a place where lay tillage or arable ground. And 
the corn lands by way of exchange crossed over the said causeway 
again and were found in lieu of die Olive plot or hortyard. But if 
any may be desirous to know more of these and suchlike miracles 
(since I love not to run on still and make no end) I refer him over 
to Aristander, a Greek writer, who has compiled a whole volume 
and stuffed it full of suchlike wonders. Let him also have recourse 
to C. Epidus, a countryman of ours, whose commentaries are full of 
such stuff: where he shall find also that trees sometimes spoke/' [83] 

Fig trees played a prominent part in Roman history. No 
less than four were conspicuous in Rome. A sacred fig tree 
was kept in the Forum and renewed, when it withered, by 
the priests. Another even more famous, named Ruminalis, 
was that under which Romulus and Remus were suckled by 
the she-wolf. A third grew before the temple of Saturn and 
was tended by the Vestal nuns. A fourth mysteriously appeared 
in the Forum, apparently in a crack of ground caused by a 
formidable earthquake. This was well looked after and 
trimmed by the populace who enjoyed, in the manner of the 
patriarchs, "the pleasure of the shade thereof." 1 

1 A parallel is to be seen in South Cornwall to-day, in the tower of Manaccan 
Church, where a large fig tree is growing out of the wall without any roots visible. 



In religious observances the highest honours were paid to 
corn, the sacred food and staple commodity on which man 
existed. Romulus instituted a fraternity of "certain Priests or 
Wardens over cornfields". He himself was the twelfth brother 
of this Order and wore a garland of ears of corn twisted and 
tied together with a white riband as the sacred badge of the 
new priesthood. King Numa, his successor, offered sacrifices 
of corn baked or parched, and it became an established custom 
that no man should "taste new corn or wine before the priests 
had taken a fee of the first fruits." Here we have an instance of 

Thus Roman religion concerned itself with a system which 
endeavoured to ensure success and plenty by conciliating forces 
outside science and by warding off the danger of some evil 
principle that controlled events. It is an understood rule that 
men fear what they do not understand; and the feeling of 
dependence on agriculture as a means of subsistence dictated 
fitting ceremonies. Any unusual or unexpected event in the 
realm of nature was at once accepted as the prelude to some- 
thing equally unusual in human affairs. 

With regard to Pliny's attitude to the more philosophical 
aspect of religion we find that he recognises three ruling 
factors as uppermost in life Fate, Fortune and Nature. He 
was too independent and self-reliant to submit to a doctrine 
of absolute fatalism, to believe that the issues of a man's life 
were determined by blind chance or sheer accident. The 
popular Roman worship of Fortuna was to him a form of 
rank superstition which could have no other effect than to 
undermine the basis of character. Augury was a weak sub- 
stitute for personal initiative and responsibility. The great 
principle of the universe lay in the Epicurean doctrine of 
"Nature", the inexorable power deciding and determining 
everything, but not in herself a deity. Jupiter as a god had, in 
fact, distinct limitations. 1 It is pointed out that he was neces- 

1 Seneca throws additional light on the view taken by the Stoic philosophy on 
the question of the gods. "Nor yet did the ancient sages believe that the Jupiter 
we worship in the Capitol and the rest of the temples ever really hurled thunderbolts 
from his hand. They recognised the same Jupiter as we do, the guardian and ruler 



sarily tied to an existence of which he could not rid himself, 
and in that matter was to be considered less fortunate than 
mortal men for whose benefit Nature had in all kindliness 
supplied the inestimable boon of sleep and death. Pliny's 
ideas are curiously simple, yet patently sensible. He proves to 
his own satisfaction that Jupiter is ruled even by the laws of 
mathematics and is powerless to cancel the universal principle 
that twice ten make twenty. "God", he says, referring to 
Jupiter, "is not omnipotent and cannot do all things". Nature 
on the other hand remains in supreme control and is an ever- 
present and active force. And Fortuna, the most popular Deity 
of Rome, was herself a delusive and helpless form of deity who 
in representing the action of blind chance, could never be 
accepted as capable of infringing or annulling the excellent 
power of Nature. 

of the universe, its soul and breath, the maker and lord of this earthly frame of 
things, to whom every name of power is appropriate. If you prefer to call him fate, 
you will not be wrong. He it is on whom depend all things, from whom proceed all 
causes of causes. If you prefer to call him providence, you will still be right; for he 
it is by whose counsel provision is made for the world that it may pursue its orderly 
course and unfold the drama of its being. If you prefer to call him nature, you will 
make no mistake; for it is he from whom all things derive being, and by whose breath 
we live. If you prefer to call him the world, you will not be in error; for he is every- 
thing that you can see, he is wholly infused in all his parts, self-sustained through 
inherent power." There was Httle to rouse mankind in a conception of fate as allowing 
nothing to avert the happening of what was about to take place inexorable decrees 
from which worshippers could not hope to be spared, with nothing to alleviate 
their unhappiness except the presumably vain exercise of their prayers and sacrifices. 


Gold and Silver 

THE rise of Rome to immense affluence was rapid as the 
immediate result of gaining the command of the Mediterranean 
in the conflict with Carthage. Thus was paved the way to 
victories in the East and the flow of the countless riches of the 
Orient into Rome gold, silver, pictures, statues, Corinthian 
brass and works of art of every description. Of all this vast 
accumulation of things Pliny gives us a fairly comprehensive 
idea. Rome grew to be congested with an excess of statues in 
the places of assembly, in gardens and private houses. The 
temples the strongholds of the Muses became the first 
museums and were hung with pictures by the finest Greek 
artists. It was a time when private citizens, and even slaves, 
quickly amassed fortunes and in the first flush of finding them- 
selves millionaires attracted notoriety by the ostentation with 
which they indulged their extravagant fancies. The description 
of this wealth may well appear fantastic, but the facts and 
figures which Pliny gives are probably well within the truth. 
Take as an example the theatre of Scaurus, built to entertain 
the populace. The stage had three lofts, one above the other. 
The middle loft was of glass "an excessive superfluity, never 
heard of before or after." The top one was entirely gilded. 
Supporting this stage were 360 columns of marble, 38 feet 
high, and between them stood 3,000 statues and brass images. 
The theatre was built to hold 80,000 persons "to sit well and 
at ease". In, addition there were rich hangings made of cloth 
of gold and the most exquisite pictures that could be found. 
Also the players' costumes and armouries were so abundant 
that the "surplusage" was conveyed back to the country 



house of Scaurus at Tusculum. There, we are told, his servants 
and slaves were so indignant at the vast and monotonous 
superfluity that they burnt the place down, and thus cost the 
owner an estimated damage of a hundred millions of sesterces. 

Real wealth with the Romans was estimated in the metals, 
particularly in gold. The discussion of gold therefore occu- 
pies a considerable space in the Natural History , and includes 
such topics as the wearing of rings, gold medals and ribbons 
for valour, accumulations of treasure and the profuse adorn- 
ment of Nero's palace 1 all pointing to a rigid gold standard. 
It is a fact, too, that a well-filled treasury proved to be an 
enormous financial success under the Roman regime, for 
booty of 3,000 pounds weight of gold, brought to Rome after 
the defeat of Perseus, King of Macedonia, relieved the people 
from any subsequent necessity of paying taxes. 

As to the metal itself it is pointed out that gold has no "rust 
or canker", even if brought into contact with salt or vinegar. 
Also it was highly malleable, so that it could be spun like wool 
and silk and woven in the manner of yarn. King Tarquin 
rode in triumph in a, robe of wrought gold: and Pliny says 
that he had himself seen the Empress Agrippina sitting by the 
side of Claudius at a naval exhibition arrayed in a royal mantle 
woven with nothing except pure gold. The kings of Asia 
were accustomed to robes of gold thread mixed with other 
material for everyday use. 

It may be asked where these supplies of gold came from. 
Pliny tells us that there were three sources: the chief of them 
being the sands of such rivers as the Tagus, Po, Hebrus in 
Thrace, Pactolus in Asia, and the Ganges in India. 2 This was 

1 According to Suetonius the "Golden House" had a colossus of Nero set in the 
porch, three miles of galleries, a lake, fields, pastures with wild and tame beasts, 
dining rooms with ivory ceilings from which flowers and perfumes could be dropped, 
and everywhere a profusion of gold, precious stones and mother-of-pearl. The 
chief dining-room had a round roof which wheeled round night and day like the 
heavens. Nero declared that now at last he could live like a man. 

2 Strabo says that the barbarians caught the gold carried down by the mountain 
torrents in perforated troughs and fleecy skins, thus accounting for the quest of the 
Argo. Diogenes once likened a rich man without learning to a sheep with a golden 



the best gold of all, rubbed and polished in the stream of 
water. Pits in the ground were also dug, and mountain sides 
explored where the rock was exposed. The galleries often 
fell in and overwhelmed the miners. Nor must the ants in 
India which cast the gold up out of the ground, nor the 
Griffins who gathered it in Scythia be forgotten. 1 

The following were amongst the richest owners of the 
precious metal. Some of their names have become proverbial. 

"Both Midas and Croesus were possessed of infinite sums and 
huge masses of gold. Cyrus, too, upon his conquest of Asia, met 
with 34,000 pound weight of gold, besides the gold plate and vessels 
certain leaves of trees, a Plane and a Vine tree, both of beaten gold. 
In the pillage also of this victory he carried away 500,000 talents of 
silver and a standing cup that he took from Semiramis that weighed 
fifteen talents. Before this there had reigned over the Colchians 
Salances, who having newly broken up a piece of ground in the 
Samians* country is reported to have gotten out of it a great store 
of silver and gold, notwithstanding that the whole kingdom is 
renowned for the Golden Fleece there. Indeed this prince had the 
arched and embowed roofs of his palace made of silver and gold: 
the beams and pillars also sustaining the building, yea the jambs, 
posts, principals and standards, all of the same metal after he had 
vanquished Sesostres King of Egypt, so proud a prince that he was 
wont every year to have one or other (as the lot fell out) of those 
kings, who were his tributaries and did homage to him, draw in his 
chariot like horses, when he was disposed to ride in triumph." [84] 

By way of comparison with the fabulously wealthy kings 
of the East, we gain a glimpse of the resources of the Roman 

"In olden time men knew no number above a hundred thousand 
and therefore at this day also instead of a million we multiply this 
number by ten and thus say in Latin Decies centena millia, i.e. A 
Hundred thousand ten times told and so forward. Usuries, interests 

1 -On this question of the source of gold, Herodotus makes this statement, "The 
northern parts of Europe are very much richer in gold than any other region: but 
how it is procured I have no certain knowledge. The story runs that the one-eyed 
Arimaspi purloin it from the griffins; but here I am incredulous, and cannot persuade 
myself that there is a race of men born with one eye who in all else resemble the rest 
of mankind.** 



and coined money have been the cause of these multiplications; 
hence debts came to be called even to this age Aes alienum or 'an- 
other man's money*. From this arose the proud name of Divites, 
i.e. Rich, for great monied men were so called. Yet let this be known 
that the first man that was ever known by the surname Dives 
brought a shilling to ninepence in the end, proved Bankrupt and 
defeated his creditors. As for M. Crassus, one of that same house, 
he would commonly say that no man was to be counted rich and 
worthy of the title Dives unless he were able to spend in the year 
as much as in revenues as would maintain a legion of soldiers. And 
indeed his own lands were esteemed worth Bis millies sestertium, 
that is to say, 200 millions of sesterces, Roman; and setting aside 
Sylla, he was the richest Roman that ever was known. Yet such 
was his avarice that he could not content himself with that wealthy 
estate but must needs undertake an expedition against the Parthians 
upon a hungry desire to have all their gold. 

"We have known many after him, and those of base conditions, 
no better than slaves newly enfranchised, to have grown to greater 
wealth: Pallas, Callistus, and Narcissus, late bondslaves to Claudius 
Caesar. Beside them was C. Caecilius Claudius who signified by 
his last will and testament that although he had sustained exceeding 
great losses during the troubles of the civil war, yet he should 
leave behind them at the hour of his death 4,116 slaves belonging 
to his retinue; in Oxen, 3,600 yoke; of other cattle 257,000 head; 
and in ready coin 60,000,000 sesterces Roman. Upon his funeral he 
gave express orders that 1100,000 sesterces should be expended. 

"But what of all this? Suppose all these enormous riches to be 
added together, they will come nothing near to the wealth of King 
Ptolemaeus who, when Pompey the Great warred about Judaea, 
maintained 8,000 horsemen in pay continually with his own private 
purse, kept an ordinary table within his court of a thousand persons, 
and every man had his own cup of gold to drink out of, and at each 
course and change of meats that came in new plate was served up 
to the board. These guests of his fared so highly that a man would 
have said they had been frank-fed. 

"But how far short was this mighty and sumptuous prince, think 
ye (for I will say no more now of Kings) in comparison of one 
Pythius, a Bithynian, who sent unto Darius the King a present of 
a Plane-tree, all of beaten gold, also that famous gold Vine, so 
much renowned by all writers; feasted the whole army of that mighty 


monarch, and those were 788,000 men; promising over and above 
five months' pay for them all and corn for the same time to serve 
the whole camp, if only the King would spare him one of five sons 
he had of his own to bear him company in his old age and not press 
him to serve in the wars. And yet, let any one compare the wealth 
of Pythius to that of that rich Croesus, King of Lydia! What folly 
and madness in the devil's names is this, to hunger and thirst so 
much in this life after that which is either common to base slaves 
and may fall to them or else whereof Kings themselves can find no 
end! And thus much of gathering good and heaping riches to- 
gether." [85] 

Gold leaf was freely used. An ounce could be hammered 
out into 750 leaves or more, each of them "four fingers" each 
way. The beams in, the temple of the Capitol were covered 
with this foil and the private houses of the rich all had gold 
ceilings. The walls as well as the silver plate on the sideboards 
were gilded. The thickest gold foil was called Prasnestium 
because the image of Fortune at Praeneste was more richly 
gilded than any others; and there was a thicker kind still for 
gold plating. The metal to be gilded was first rubbed with 
quicksilver (life-silver) and the gold then applied. Pliny 
remarks that quick-silver ought by rights to be called "Death- 
silver", because it was a poison to everything and the only 
thing it loved was gold. 

"All the gold employed in sacrifices to the honour of the gods 
was in gilding the horns of the beasts that were to be killed, and 
those only of the greater sort. But in warfare among soldiers the 
use of gold grew so excessive that the field and camp shone again; 
so much so that at the expedition to Macedonia, where the Marshals 
and colonels wore armour set out with rich buckles and clasps of 
gold, M. Brutus was offended and stormed mightily, as appears by 
his letter from the Plains of Philippi. Well done, O Brutus, to find 
fault with such wasteful superfluity! But why did you say nothing 
of the gold that the Roman dames in thy time wore in their shoes. 
And this evil precedent brought in another mischief just as bad, 
namely, that men also should wear bracelets of gold on their arms 
next their bare skin, an ornament called Dardanium because the 
invention came from the Dardanians. Oh! the monstrous disorders 



that have crept into the world ! But say that women may be allowed 
to wear as much gold as they please, In bracelets, in rings on every 
finger and joint, in carkanets about their necks, in earrings pendant 
at their ears, in stays, wreaths and chin-bands; let them have their 
chains of gold as large as they list under their arms or across their 
sides scarf-wise, with collars of gold thick beset with ropes of 
pearls pendant from their neck below their waist; that in their beds 
also, when they are asleep, they may remember what a weight of 
pearls they carry about them: must they therefore wear gold upon 
their feet?" [86] 

When gold could not be used, silver took its place. Side- 
boards were loaded with silver plates; kitchen utensils in the 
houses of the very rich must be of the same costly metal; and 
for articles of furniture, beds, tables, couches it was used 
lavishly. The silversmiths at Rome did a roaring trade, and it 
appears that there was the same kind of competition between 
the different shops as there is to-day. 

"The world is given to such inconstancy that no workmanship 
will please any one very long. At one moment we must have our 
plate out of Furnius's shop, at another we insist on being furnished 
from Clodius; and again in a new fit nothing will content us except 
it is Gratius's making (for our cupboards of plate and our tables, 
forsooth, must bear the name of such and such Goldsmiths' shops). 
Moreover, when the toy takes us in the head, all our delight is in 
chased and embossed plate; or else so carved, engraved and deeply 
cut as to be rough in title hand, wrought in imagery or flower work 
as if the painter had drawn them. And nowadays we are come to this 
pass that our dishes are set upon the table, borne up with feet and 
supporters to sustain the viands therein; but their sides must be 
pared away very close, because the more that the sides and edges 
have lost by the file, the richer is the plate esteemed to be. 

"As to the saucepans in the kitchen, did not Calvus the noble 
Orator complain in his time that they were of silver? Why, we in 
these days do more than that, for we cover our coaches with silver, 
curiously wrought and engraved. And it is within our remembrance 
that the Empress Poppaea, wife of Nero the Emperor, was known 
to order her coach-horses and other palfreys to be shod with clean 
gold. To what excess and prodigality is the world now come to. 
Scipio Africanus left no more to his heir in silver plate and coin 


than 32 pound weight, and yet this worthy knight, when he rode in 
triumph for the conquest of the Carthaginians, showed in that solemn 
pomp and brought into the chamber of Rome as much treasure as 
amounted to 4,370 pounds weight of that metal. This was all the 
treasure in silver that the whole state of Carthage was able to make 
in those days Carthage that great and proud city which pretended 
a title to the Empire of the world. Yet see! In this age there is as 
much laid out in our cupboards of plate and furniture of our tables. 
"A long time ago it was the fashion at Rome for our dames to 
have their beds covered all over with silver; yea, and some dining- 
rooms with tables laid with the same. This invention is said to have 
come from Carvilius Pollio who devised to garnish his boards with 
silver, not covering them throughout with silver plates but only 
by parcels according to the Punic or Carthaginian fashion. The 
same Pollio made beds and tables of gold; and it was not long 
before silver beds or couches came into fashion, in imitation of 
those in the Isle Delos. But all this sumptuosity was sufficiently 
punished by the civil war of Sulla, for a little before those troubles 
men began to make great chargers and platters of silver, weighing 
one hundred pound apiece, of which there were at Rome, as is well 
known, more than five hundred when the war began; and this was 
the cause why many men fell into the danger of proscription and 
confiscation since their rich plate set their enemies' teeth on water." 

Furniture, too, had its fashions among the wealthy. At one 
time sideboards inlaid with tortoiseshell were all the rage. 
Stoutly made pieces of furniture were covered with maple 
and citron wood. Very soon silver was added in the same way 
as book covers were decorated and protected with thin sheet 
laid on the corners and sides. Enormous prices were paid for 
certain engraved vessels called "Dolphins", which fetched as 
much as 5,000 sesterces a pound. Crassus the orator con- 
fessed that for some cabinet pieces of plate he had paid as 
much as 6,000 sesterces a pound and felt positively ashamed 
to use them or even show them in public. 

With this extravagance Pliny had no sympathy. The 
conquest of Asia had brought into Italy much wasteful excess 
and did even "greater damage to the integrity of manners: for 
from that time forward men grew to be shameless and without 



regard of modesty. Every man's fingers itched for all the pride 
and pleasure of the world which was to be found at Rome." 
The army, too, was becoming demoralised. Everything was 
done to curry favour with the higher powers, even to presenta- 
tions of silver statues. 

"Men have commonly thought that the first statues of silver seen 
in Rome were made in honour of the Emperor Augustus by way of 
courting and flattery to win his grace and favour, as those times did 
require. But it is altogether untrue, for before his day we find that 
Pompey the Great, when he rode in triumph, caused the silver 
statue of King Pharnaces to be carried in solemn show, as also the 
image of Mithridates his father, besides chariots both of gold and of 

"Moreover, it falls out sometimes that silver is used instead of 
gold upon some urgent cases and just occasion, as we may see by 
our proud and sumptuous dames that are but commoners' wives 
who are forced to make themselves carquans and such ornaments 
for their shoes of silver, because the rigour of the statute provided in 
that case will not permit them to wear the same of gold. I myself, as 
I remember, have seen Aurelius Fuscus (a gentleman of Rome, who 
lost the dignity of a man of arms by reason of a calumniation framed 
against him when young gentlemen's sons used to accompany him 
because he had the name of a brave soldier) wear his rings of silver. 
But to what purpose do I collect these examples, seeing how our 
soldiers make no reckoning of ivory, but the hilts of their swords 
and the hafts of their daggers are garnished with silver, damasked 
and engraved? Their scabbards and sheaths are set out with silver 
chapes and their sword girdles, hangers and bawdricks gingle again 
with thin plates of silver. And do we not see how our fine dames 
wash and bathe in silver, disdaining and setting light by any other 
bathing vessels in the baths? Oh that Fabricius were alive now to 
behold these things! If he saw our women bathing together with 
men in one and the same baths, and those paved (as it were) under 
foot with silver so smooth and slippery that they cannot keep their 
feet: Fabricius, I say, who forbade expressly that any warriors and 
General captains should have in plate more than one drinking goblet 
and a salt-seller. If he saw silver thus melted and broken to serve 
these purposes, what would he say but 'What a world is this!' " 

1 80 

Of Precious Stones 

GEMS, according to Pliny, were the concentrated expression of 
the beauty of the world, and included even such stones as 
crystal and chalcedony which, however beautiful, would not be 
reckoned as precious to-day. It would be difficult to interpret 
all Pliny's references correctly, because he was compelled to 
rely on verbal descriptions and superficial appearances, instead 
of being able to apply the chemical tests on which all modern 
distinctions are based. 

It is doubtful, for instance, whether Pliny ever saw or 
handled a diamond, although the stone "Adamas" certainly 
suggests the diamond. On the other hand he would have 
failed to observe any difference between a cut white sapphire 
and a cut diamond. The word "adainas" signifies "invincible 
by fire", and under this title Pliny mentions as many as six 
varieties which probably included various kinds of quartz. 
The tests of resisting the blow of a hammer on an anvil, or of 
burning, would certainly not be passed by a diamond. 1 

Pliny's catalogue of gems is reminiscent of those set in 
Aaron's breastplace of judgement and may for convenience be 

1 As an example of the confusion that existed even through the Middle Ages 
about diamonds the remarks of Sir John Mandeville have some point. He warns 
buyers not to be deceived by "gabbers that go by the country to sell them. For 
whoso will buy the diamond it is needful to him that he know them. Because that 
men counterfeit them often of crystal that is yellow and of sapphires of citron colour 
that is yellow also, and of the sapphire loupe and of many other stones." A test of 
the genuineness of the stone was recommended which shows the curious relation 
the diamond was supposed to have with the loadstone: "Men take the adamant, that 
is the shipman's stone, that draweth the needle to him, and men lay the diamond 
upon the adamant, and lay the needle before the adamant; and if the diamond be good 
and virtuous, the adamant draweth not the needle to him whiles the diamond is there 



taken in the same order. In the first row of the breastplate, it 
will be remembered, were a sardius, a topaz and a carbuncle. 
It was a sardonyx ring, so Pliny tells us, which King Polycrates 
of Samos flung into the sea and had returned to him in the 
belly of a fish. The story runs that 

"in the height of his felicity and happy estate which he himself 
confessed to be excessive, and being willing after a sort to play at 
fortune's game, one while to win and another while to lose and so 
in some measure satisfy her inconstancy, was persuaded in his mind 
that he would content her sufficiently by the voluntary loss of one 
gem that he had and which he set great store by. Seeing therefore 
the world come upon him still and no sour sorrows intermingled 
with his sweet delights, in a weariness of this continual blessedness, 
he embarked and sailed into the deep where wilfully he flung into 
the sea a ring from his finger together with the precious stone set 
therein. But see what ensued ! A mighty fish, made (as a man would 
say) fit for a king, chanced to swallow it down as if it had been some 
bait. Being afterwards caught by fishers and thought to be of an 
extraordinary bigness, it was brought as a present into the King's 
palace and so sent into the kitchen, where the cook found within 
the belly the ring of his lord and master. Oh, the subtlety of sly 
Fortune, who all this while twisted the cord that another day should 
hang Polycrates ! This stone (as is well known) was a Sardonyx and, 
if we may believe it, the very same which is shown at Rome in the 
temple of Concord, where lie Empress Augusta dedicated it as an 
oblation, enchased within a golden horn." [89] 

Pliny mentions three or five varieties of sardonyx, including 
the sard and carnelian. His classification of precious stones 
was based on colour, the main distinctions being blue, red, 
green, yellow and white. The topaz is described as a green 
stone, rather soft and brought from an island in the Red Sea; 
no doubt a Peridot, or green olivine. 

A statue, four cubits high, was said to have been made of 
Queen Berenice in this stone. A golden coloured variety of 
topaz resembled "the juice of Porret" a somewhat strange 
comparison with a spring onion. 

Carbuncles were a numerous family embracing the whole 
range of hard red stones, such as rubies, spinels and garnets. 



The name "ruby" signified fire; it is to be noted that the male 
stones were "more fire-like" than the female, either flaming 
more clearly, or darker and blacker. The gentler sex, it 
appears, shone with a softer and more delicate light. It seems 
that sham rubies made of glass were often put on the market; 
but the way to discover the fraud was to test them on a grind- 
stone, the counterfeit gems being softer and more brittle than 
the fine and pure stones. The weight also and "little risings", 
or bubbles, were a sure sign. 

The second row of Aaron's breastplate included an emerald, 
a sapphire and a diamond. Twelve varieties of emeralds are 
mentioned, including the true gem which was much used for 
engraving seals. Felspars of various kinds probably belonged 
to this list. The ancient sapphire was the Lapis Lazuli, de- 
scribed as an opaque blue stone with gold spots. 

The emerald is highly praised as having the most pleasing 
colour of all, giving us the same delight that we experience in 
beholding green herbs and leaves of grass. It refreshes the eye 
and yet never satiates it: 

"If the sight has been wearied and dimmed by intentive poring 
upon something else, the beholding of this stone refreshes and re- 
stores it again, which lapidaries that cut and engrave fine stones 
know well: for they have not a better means to refresh their eyes 
than the Emerald, the mild green that it has so comforts and revives 
their weariness and lassitude. 

"Moreover, the longer and farther offa man looks upon Emeralds 
the fairer and bigger they seem to the eye, because they cause the 
reverberation of the air about them to seem green, for neither Sun 
nor shade, nor yet the light of a candle, causes them to change and 
lose their lustre. They send out their own rays gradually, little by 
little, so that they entertain reciprocally the visual beams of our 
eyes; and for all the spissitude and thickness that they seem to have, 
they allow our sight to pierce gently into their bottom. They are 
often shaped hollow and thereby gather, unite and fortify the spirits 
that maintain our eyesight. Because of the manifold pleasures that 
they show to our eyes they are spared by universal consent, and 
lapidaries are expressly forbidden to cut and engrave them. When 
you find a table-Emerald hold its flat face against anything and it 


will represent the object to the eye as well as a mirror or looking- 
glass. Indeed the Emperor Nero was accustomed to watch the 
combats of fencers and sword-players in a fair Emerald." [90] 

The meaning of the last sentence has been widely debated; 
by some an error in the manuscript is suspected. Nero was 
definitely short-sighted; but whether he used an, emerald as an 
eye-glass, or a mirror, or for some other reason, it is impossible 
to say. 

The third row of Aaron's breastplate consisted of a ligure, 
an agate and an amethyst. The ligure may be identified with 
the yellow zircon, or citrine, a yellow quartz. Agates were, in a 
sense, the most medicinal stones of all They had qualities of 
holiness attached to them which supported a reputation for the 
cure of the stings of venomous spiders and scorpions. The 
claim to the miraculous was that 

"you will find imprinted naturally in them the form and proportion 
of rivers, woods and labouring horses, coaches and little chariots or 
horse-litters, together with the furniture and ornaments belonging 
to horses. As for Physicians, they make from it grinding stones 
and mortars for fine powders, and it is believed that only to behold 
and look upon an Agate is very comfortable for the eyes. Some hold 
the opinion that the singular grace and commendation in an Agate 
is to be clear and transparent like glass. Those in Thrace near the 
hill Parnassus have flowers imprinted in them like those growing by 
the highways and paths in the fields. 

"The Magicians observe other sorts. For instance, there are those 
which are like a Lion's skin and these they say are powerful against 
scorpions. In Persia they are persuaded that a perfume of such 
Agates turns away tempests and all extraordinary impressions of the 
air, and also stays the violent stream and rage of rivers. To know 
which was proper for this purpose they cast them into a cauldron of 
seething water: then if the stones cool it, it is an argument that they 
are right. To make sure that they will do good, they must be worn 
tied by the hairs of a Lion's mane. As to those Agates which seem 
to have the print of a Hyena's skin, the Magicians cannot abide 
them, as causing discord in a house. They hold too that the Agate 
of one simple colour causes the wrestlers who have it about them to 
be invincible. A proof of this they take by seething it in a pot full of 



oil, with different painters* colours. Within two hours after it has 
sivered and boiled therein, it will bring them all to one entire colour 
of Vermilion." [91] 

The last row of Aaron's breastplate consisted of a beryl, an 
onyx and a jasper. The beryl is probably the "smaragdos" of 
Pliny which ran to eight varieties, one of them being the 
aquamarine. The onyx was much used by the seal engravers 
and attention, was paid to the qualities of the layers of colour. 
The Roman connoisseurs delighted to draw distinctions between 
the different schemes and the order in which the colours lay. 
The jasper belonged to a large family ranging from sea-green 
to sky-blue, 

A number of gems had Greek names taken from resem- 
blances, fancied or otherwise. Thus we find a grape-cluster 
stone; others with such epithets as onion, tortoise, golden- 
light, golden-face, garden, laurel, heart-shaped, stone of the 
religious, milk, Gorgon, Idaean fingers, gems of Jove, meadow 
green, white-eye, worthy-of-all-love, gem of the Sun, wolfs 
eye, peacock, beetle, oak, ivy, daffodil, fire-lighting with 
other popular names which defy any accurate guess as to their 

India was the mother of opals. They were held remarkable 
for giving in one single stone the fire of the ruby, the purple of 
the amethyst, the green of the emerald, all glittering together 
in an incredible manner. Yet the opal had recognised blemishes 
when, for instance, it resembled the flower of "that herb 
which is called Heliotropium, id est y Turnesole"; or parts of it 
looked like hail or grains of salt or were rough to the touch. 
The Indians could imitate it very closely in glass; an early age 
for forgeries. The only way to distinguish the true from the 
false gems was to hold it up to the light. 

Here is a story illustrating the danger of exciting cupidity 

"I am reminded of a story among us worthy of remembrance. 
At this day one of the Opals can be seen for which Marcus Aitfonius 
outlawed Nonius, a Senator of Rome, the son of that Struma Nonius 
at whom the stomach of Catullus the Poet rose so much, seeing 


him (as he did) sit in a stately chair of ivory called Curulis. Now 
this Senator when he was driven to fly upon this proscription took 
nothing with him but only the ring in which this opal was set, valued 
(as is well known) at twenty thousand sesterces. But since the cruel 
and inordinate appetite of Antony was wonderful on the one side, 
so the peevishness and contumacy of Nonius was as strange on the 
other side, for he was so far in love with that gem which cost him 
his proscription that rather than part with it he suffered himself to 
be turned out of house and home. And yet those wild beasts are 
better advised who are content to bite off the parts of their body 
for which they see themselves in danger of death and leave them 
behind for the hunters/' [92] 

The reference is to the elephants who were said to leave 
their tusks behind in order to pacify their pursuers and so 
enable them to escape with their lives. 

Turquoises also came from the East. In, India they were 
found on icy cliffs, almost inaccessible, where they stood out 
like bosses or eyes. As the people of those districts were dis- 
inclined to climb, they slung stones at the face of the cliff to 
bring them down. Collars and chains of these gems were a 
sign of great wealth, and it is remarked that no precious stone 
looks better than the turquoise mounted in gold, a taste not so 
general in the Western world as in the Eastern. 

The Amethyst derived its name from its resemblance to the 
colour of wine. It was a favourite stone to engrave and the 
choicer specimens were often called "Venus Gems" from their 
grace and loveliness. Another cause for popularity was their 
efficacy as charms. An amethyst could withstand drunkenness; 
and hung about the neck by a baboon's hairs or swallows' 
feathers would counteract sorceries and poisoning. It could 
also assist negotiations with princes, bring fine weather and 
turn away locusts if the proper prayer were said: in every way 
a useful stone. But Pliny somewhat dashes any hopeful 
anticipations by remarking how mankind is fooled by these 

We are left with three substances which were regarded by 
the ancients as precious crystal, glass and amber. Crystal 



was believed to proceed from extreme cold, to be a liquor 
congealed by frost in the manner of ice, as the Greek word 
denotes. 1 Certain celestial humours, rain and fine snow, con- 
tributed to its growth, mainly in the higher regions of the Alps 
where men had to hang by ropes to get it. Because of its origin 
it was considered a, wonderful material for making drinking 
vessels. "Not many years ago", Pliny says, "a dame of Rome, 
and she none of the richest, bought a bowl or drinking cup of 
crystal and paid 150 sesterces for it." Nero in one of his pas- 
sions caught up two crystal drinking cups and, to demonstrate 
his amiable nature, dashed them to pieces because "he could 
think of no better way to indulge his spite than to prevent 
any one else drinking out of those glasses." 2 

While crystal was a product of cold, glass came from heat. 
The discovery of glass is attributed to an incident at the mouth 
of a river near Mount Carmel where the sand was said to be ex- 
ceptionally pure and refined over a distance of about half a mile. 

"The story is that certain merchants arrived in a ship laden with 
nitre in the mouth of this river and, being landed, minded to cook 
their victuals on the shore and the sands. But as they wanted other 
stones to serve as trevets to support their pans and cauldrons over 
the fire, they made shift with certain pieces of saltnitre out of the 
ship and so made a fire underneath. When this was once afire among 
the sand and gravel of the shore they perceived a clear liquor run 
from under the fire in transparent streams; and this was how, so they 
say, came about the first invention of making glass." [93] 

Actually such an event is incredible. The material could not 

1 Sir John Mandeville refers to the Himalayas as a part of the world so cold that 
the water itself becomes crystal. Here again the inevitable diamond is mentioned. 
"And upon those rocks of crystal grow the good diamonds that be of trouble (turbid) 
colour. Yellow crystal draweth colour like oil. And they be so hard that no man 
can polish them." But the diamonds found in Arabia and the isle of Cyprus, we are 
told, could be easily polished, so that doubts might reasonably be held of their 
authenticity. Harder diamonds appeared to come out of masses of gold ore, a fact 
which plainly points to quartz. 

2 Herodotus had a strange story of the Ethiopians making a mummy oi a corpse' 
and, after painting it, enclosing it in a crystal pillar which had been hollowed out to 
receive it, "crystal being dug up in great abundance in their country and of a kind 
very easy to work." The corpse was plainly visible and was honoured with sacrifice 
by the next of kin for a whole year, when apparently the pillar was taken out and set 
up near the town. 



have been brought to a sufficiently high temperature to cause 
fusion; also the nitre was an incorrect ingredient. Another 
story occurs of an invention of a malleable glass that would 
not break when dropped on the ground. This invention, it is 
said, was promptly suppressed by Tiberius as being detrimental 
to the glass-making industry; indeed the inventor paid for his 
ingenuity with his life. In 1610 it was rumoured that the 
Sophy of Persia presented the King of Spain with six flexible 
glass cups, and since then there have been constant rumours of 
successful attempts in the same direction. 

One of the ingredients for glass making is stated to have 
been the Load-stone (by which manganese is probably meant) 
the idea being that "it was thought to draw the liquor of glass 
to it, as well as iron." This adds to the ancient mystery of 
glass, because the magnet, or loadstone, was considered by 
Pliny to be the most wonderful thing in all creation. It seemed 
incredible that Nature should bestow on the stiff hard stone 
"sense and hands also" to tame and conquer the stubborn and 
rebellious iron and seize it in its grasp. The first discoverer 
was said to be a Neat-herd who kept his beasts on Mount Ida 
and noticed that the hob nails in his shoes stuck to this stone, 
also the iron pick of his staff. (The story is repeated in another 
form in the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor.) 

Pliny quotes Sotacus as distinguishing between the sex of 
the loadstones; and with this peculiarity it is to be noted that the 
power of stones to beget other stones was a common belief of 
the time. "Those of Baeotia", we read, "are more red than 
black, and the kind that is found in Troas is black, of the 
female sex, and consequently destitute of attractive power and 
not of that virtue that others are." Here again a curious preju- 
dice is in evidence. Theophrastus was persuaded that some 
stones brought forth others and instanced a certain mineral 
ivory found in the ground probably fossil remains. Moon 
stones were believed to hang from trees in Arabia and to 
generate their own species. The idea of stones multiplying is 
not yet dead in districts where farmers still believe that they 
multiply in the fields like potatoes. 



We now come to amber about which the Greeks told many 
marvellous tales. It excited Pliny's stern indignation that so 
much wrongful information has been put about on the debat- 
able question of its origin* 

"First and foremost therefore many of their Poets tell us a tale 
of how the sisters of the young prince Phaeton, weeping piteously 
for the miserable death of their brother who was smitten with 
lightning, were turned into Poplar trees, which instead of tears 
yielded every year a liquor called Electrum (that is Amber), and 
this issued from them where they grew on the banks of the River Po. 
The reason why the name Electrum was given was because the Sun 
in old time was usually called Elector (as rousing and raising us in 
the morning out of our beds) in Greek. 

"But it appears that this is one of their loud lies by the testimony 
of all Italy. Some of these Greek writers, the more speculative 
among them in the works of Nature than their fellows, have told 
us of certain Islands lying along the Venetian gulf, called Electrides, 
where amber is gathered washed down by the River Eridanus, which 
we call the Po, into the sea. However, it is well known that there 
were never yet Islands so named within that tract; no, nor any islands 
at all near the place into which the River Po could possibly bring 
anything at all down his stream. As for ^Eschylus the Poet, who 
says that the river Eridanus is in Spain, he and others show their 
gross ignorance in Cosmography and description of the world, 
and therefore they should be pardoned if they knew not what Amber 
was. Those that write more modestly than the rest (and yet can lie 
as well as the best) bear us in hand that upon rocks otherwise in- 
accessible in the Adriatic Sea trees grow which yearly at the rising 
of the Dog star yield this amber in the form of a gum. Theophras- 
tus, on the other hand, affirms that amber is dug out of the ground. 
Philemon would have us believe that amber is mineral and got out 
of the earth in Scythia in two places. In the one it is found white, 
the colour of wax, which they call Electrum: in the other it is reddish 
or tawny and that is named Sualternicum. Sudines talks of a tree in 
Liguria which bears this amber. Sotacus was persuaded that it ran 
down from certain trees in Britain. Pytheas affirms that the Gutti, 
a people of Germany, inhabit an arm of the Ocean called Mentono- 
mon, a day's sailing from which lies an Island called Abalus where at 
every Springtide there is cast up by the waves of the sea at high 



water a great quantity of amber. And this is taken for nothing else 
than a certain excrement congealed and hardened which the sea 
in that season purges and sends away. The inhabitants of those 
parts (says he) burn it for ordinary fuel and sell it to the Saxons and 
other Dutch, their next neighbours. Niceas would have us conceive 
that it is a juice or humour proceeding (I wot not how) from the 
rays of the Sun: he imagines that the beams are exceeding hot 
towards Sunset and these rebounding from the earth leave behind 
them a certain fatty sweat in that part of the Ocean and this after- 
wards is cast up on the Sea-shore and sands of the Germans. He 
writes also that the Indians make more account of it than frankin r 
cense; and that in Syria the women make the whirls of their spindles 
of this substance and call it Harpax ("to drag") because it will catch 
up leaves, straws and fringes hanging to cloths. 

"Theomenes says that near the Greater Syrtis, where the garden 
of the Hesperides lies, a man will find that amber falls out of this 
garden into a lake beneath, and that the virgins attending upon that 
place come to gather it. But I wonder most at Sophocles the Tragic 
Poet (a man who wrote his Poesies with so grave and lofty a style, 
and lived besides in so good a reputation) that he should go beyond 
all others in fabulous reports as touching Amber: for he does not 
hesitate to avouch that in the countries beyond India it proceeds 
from the tears that fall from the eyes of the birds Meleagrides, wail- 
ing and weeping for the death of Meleager. Who would not marvel 
that either he himself should be of that belief or hope to persuade 
others to his opinion? What child is so simple and ignorant as to 
believe that birds should shed tears so regularly every year, especi- 
ally such great drops and in such quantity, sufficient to engender 
Amber in that abundance? Besides, what congruity is there that 
birds should go as far as the Indians and beyond to mourn and 
lament the death of Meleager when he died in Greece? What is 
one to say of many tales as good as these which Poets have sent 
abroad into the world? Their profession of Poetry, that is to say, 
of feigning and devising fables, may in some sort excuse them: but 
that any man should seriously and by way of history deliver such 
stuff about a thing so rife and common, brought in every day in 
abundance by merchants, is a mere mockery of the world in the 
highest degree, a contempt offered to all men and argues a habit of 
lying and an impunity of that intolerable vice." [94] 

Pliny takes his science with commendable seriousness and 



offers his own simple explanation that amber issued from trees 
resembling pines in the same way as gum was produced from 
cherry trees. He proves to his own satisfaction that it dropped 
at first very clear and liquid and then congealed with the cold, 
or thickened with the heat, as is shown by the fact that one can 
see many curious things within, such as ants, gnats and lizards 
which no doubt were "entangled and stuck within when it was 
green and fresh and so remained enclosed as it became harder." 
Very large quantities were brought to Rome; one piece 
weighed as much as thirteen pounds. It seems to have been 
used at the circus for the biers and burial appliances of un- 
fortunate gladiators. 

Lastly, there are pearls. Pompey is blamed for starting the 
craze in Rome for pearls and precious stones. When he 
entered the city in triumph there were carried before him such 
magnificent objects as a chess board, two feet by four, on 
which all the men were made of rare stones; a golden moon, 
weighing thirteen pounds; three dining tables of gold; thirty- 
three coronets mounted with jewels; a mountain made of gold 
with red deer, lions and fruit trees adorning the slopes; and 
an oratory of pearl with a kind of clock on the top. But his 
own portrait made of pearls was the crowning achievement 

"And that good face and venerable visage so highly honoured 
among all nations was now all pearls, as if that manly countenance 
and severity of his had been vanquished, and riotous excess and 
superfluity had triumphed over him rather than he over it. O 
Pompey, O Magnus, how could this title and surname Le Grand 
have continued among those nations if in thy first victory thou 
hadst triumphed after this manner! What, Magnus, were there no 
other means but to seek our pearls (things so prodigal, superfluous, 
devised for women and such as not to beseem Pompey to wear 
about him) and therewith to portray and counterfeit thy manly 
visage! Was this the way to have thyself seem precious? Does not 
that portraiture come nearer thee and resemble thy person far liker 
which thou didst cause to be erected on the columns and pillars on 
the top of the Pirenaean hills?" [95] 

This magnificence paved the way to even greater displays. 



Nero had the sceptres and maces embellished with the finest 
and largest pearls; "yea and the very bedrooms which went 
with him when he travelled". Musicians, actors and minstrels 
were noted for the gay and glittering gems they wore not, 
it is hinted, always in the best of taste. The moral that Pliny 
deduces from these displays is that when actors and musicians 
make such a vulgar use of jewellery it should serve as a lesson 
to "pull down the plumes" of those who pride themselves so 
much on what after all is merely an empty form of personal 
ostentation. The little pearl buskins which the Emperor 
Caligula used to draw upon his legs were a sad example of 
these effeminate tricks and womanly devices. 



Of Painters 

THE question may be asked: what would have been the fate 
of European painting if the Greeks had never practised the 
art? The answer is that probably some Eastern form of 
pictorial expression akin to that of India or Persia art would 
have been more or less permanently adopted. The classical, 
or Grand style, initiated at the Renaissance, was directly 
inspired by the Greek painting of the fourth and fifth cen- 
turies B.C. 

Many examples of the finest Greek and Roman sculpture 
remain, but oi" the pictures there are few traces, and those 
only reproductions of the original masterpieces, the majority 
of them recovered from Herculaneum and Pompeii. In the 
35th Book of the Natural History descriptions can be found of 
some of the pictures actually discovered in the ruins. Vasari, 
writing in 1550, discusses other paintings excavated from the 
lower rooms of the old Roman palaces notably of the Golden 
House of Nero 1 which Totila destroyed when he gave up 
the city to plunder and the sword, leaving no treasures of art 
intact if he could avoid it. 

A curious point mentioned by Vasari is that these rooms 
buried in the earth were named "grottoes" by the moderns of 
his time, which brought the word "grotesque" into use. 

The origin, or invention, of painting did not of course 
escape the curiosity of Pliny. He summarily dismisses the 
claim of the Egyptians to have initiated the art five hundred 
years before as "a vain brag and ostentation". Here Pliny was 

1 Pliny tells us that the pictures on the walls were painted by Fabullus, dressed 
in his toga to show that he was not a foreign artist but a freeborn Roman. 

o 193 


a little injudicious. He preferred, however, to attack the 
problem from an angle less historical, and claimed that the 
first portrait ever made was merely the tracing of lines round 
the shadow of a person to show his proportions and linea- 
ments. The next step was to fill in the outline with colour a 
sketch, to adopt the Greek word, in "monochrome". Cimon 
made an advance with works called Catagrapha, or fore- 
shortenings. The head was first drawn by him to denote a 
person looking different ways an innovation of some mo- 
ment. Very soon limbs were represented knit in different 
attitudes, and garments were modelled in folds and wrinkles. 
Battles became a favourite subject for painters; and to encour- 
age the enterprise of artists prizes were offered at the Games. 
Challenges also were thrown out by rivals, which excited 
great interest, as is to be seen in the famous contest between 
Zeuxis and Parrhasius. Novelties In the matter of treatment 
were welcomed and painters became bolder in their range of 
subjects. Polygnotus, for example, painted a man on, a ladder 
so skilfully that it was impossible to tell whether he was climb- 
up or coming down. "Why this particular form of illusion 
should be so highly admired is not stated. Apollodorus, the 
Athenian, went a step further and painted a priest praying and 
worshipping; also an Ajax apparently struck by a flash of 
lightning. These works were held to mark a considerable 

Of the many painters mentioned by Pliny three stand out 
conspicuously from the rest: Zeuxis and Parrhasius and 

Zeuxis, as he became famous, acquired great wealth and cut 
a figure in the world which Rubens at the heights of his success 
might have envied. He attended the games at Olympia with 
his name embroidered in gold letters on his cloak and decided 
to work no longer for money, but to give away his pictures, 
on the ground that he valued them higher than any price. 
Among his gifts were a picture of Queen Alcmena to the 
Agrigentines and of the god Pan to King Archilaus. 

"There was also the portrait of Lady Penelope, which he drew 



in colours, wherein he seems not only to have depainted the out- 
ward personage and feature of the body, but also to have expressed 
most lively the inward affections and qualities of her mind. There 
was also much talk of a wrestler or champion of his painting, with 
which he was so pleased that he subscribed this verse under it, 
Invisurus allquis facilius quam imitatwus (Sooner will a man envy 
me that set such another by me). And this grew to be a byword in 
every man's mouth, 

"One stately picture there is of his workmanship, Jupiter sitting 
upon a throne in his majesty, with all the other gods standing by 
and making court to him. He portrayed Hercules also as a babe 
lying in the cradle and strangling two fell serpents with his hands, 
in the presence of his mother Alcmena and her husband K. Amphi- 
tryon, both affrighted at the sight thereof." [96] 

The love of illusion and the high estimation placed on it (as 
if painting were almost a kind of conjuring trick), is well 
brought out by the stories of Zeuxis and Parrhasius competing 
with one another. 

"Parrhasius is reported to have been so bold as to challenge 
Zeuxis openly and to enter the lists with him for the victory. In 
which contention and trial Zeuxis for proof of his cunning brought 
upon the scaffold a picture in which clusters of grapes were painted 
so lively that the very birds of the air flew flocking thither to be 
pecking at the grapes. Parrhasius, on the other hand, to show his 
workmanship came with another picture in which he had painted a 
ilnen sheet, so like a curtain that Zeuxis (in a glorious bravery and 
pride of his heart, because the birds had approved of his own handi- 
work), came to Parrhasius and said by way of a scorn and frump, 
'Come on, sir, away with your curtain so that we may see your 
goodly picture'. But perceiving his own error, he was mightily 
abashed and like an honest-minded man yielded the victory to his 
adversary, saying, 'Zeuxis hath beguiled poor birds, but Parrhasius 
hath deceived Zeuxis, a professed artisan*. 

"This Zeuxis, as it is reported, painted afterwards another picture 
in which he made a boy carrying certain bunches of grapes in a 
basket; and seeing again that the birds flew to the grapes, he shook 
his head, and coming to his picture, with the like ingenious mind as 
before, brake out into these words and said: 'Ah, I see well enough 
where I have failed. I have painted the grapes better than the boy; 


for if I had done him as naturally, the birds would have been fright- 
ened and never approached the grapes." [97] 

Shakespeare used this tale of deception to express in vivid 
terms the disappointment of Venus: 

"Even as poor birds, deceived with painted grapes, 
Do surfeit by the eye and pine the maw, 
Even so she languisheth in her mishaps 
As those poor birds that helpless berries saw." 

Another bird story is that of Lepidus, a member of the 
Triumvirate at Rome, when he was once lodged by the 
magistrates in a house surrounded by woods: 1 

"The next morrow Lepidus took them to task and in bitter and 
minatory words chid them because they had laid him where he 
could not sleep a wink all night long for the noise and singing that 
the birds made about him. Accordingly being thus checked and 
rebuked, they had a long dragon or serpent painted on a piece of 
parchment of exceeding length and with this they compassed on the 
next night the place where Lepidus should take his repose. The 
sight of this serpent so terrified the birds that they had no mind to 
sing but were altogether silent. This experiment showed how birds 
by this means might be stilled." [98] 

Parrhasius, like Zeuxis, had an excellent conceit of himself. 
"There was no one so arrogant as he in regard to his own 
cunning and reputation, which he knew well enough, and no 
man needed to tell him. He assumed imposing titles, such as 
Abrodiaetus, which meant fine, delicate, sumptuous; for he 
would be in his purple, adorned with gold chaplets, his staff 
tipped with gold and his shoebuckles in the same metal!" He 
even claimed descent from Apollo and painted a portrait of 
Hercules as he appeared to him in his sleep. This brings him in 
line with Blake who professed that he had seen Satan with his 
bodily eye and that he had actually painted Lot from life. 

1 The same type of story occurs in Chinese literature of paintings of hawks 
hung up to frighten away the pigeons that were apt to defile the faces of the gilt 
Buddhist images. In the houses, too, pictures of cats were guaranteed to scare the 
mice away, and dragons were sometimes painted so vividly that they were likely 
at any moment to take wing and disappear altogether. 



Parrhasius owes his title to fame for having developed the 
principle of light and shade, or chiaroscura, in his pictures; 
but it would appear that he and Zeuxis were equally expert in 
the new discovery. 

"He was the first that gave true symmetry to his figures and 
observed the just proportions. He first exactly expressed the sundry 
habits and gestures of the countenance: it was he that first stood 
upon the curious workmanship of couching and laying the hairs 
of the head in order; the level grace and beauty about the mouth 
and lips he first exactly expressed: and by the confession of all 
painters that saw his work he won the prize and praise from them all 
in making the right contours, which is the principal point and 
hardest matter belonging to the whole art. To outline well, that is 
to say, to make the extremities of any part, to mark duly the divisions 
of parcels, and to give every one their just compass and measure, is 
exceeding difficult, and few, when they come to the doing of it, 
have been found able to attain to that felicity. For the utmost edge 
of a work must fall round upon itself, and so made to terminate in 
the end as to shadow what is behind, and yet show what it seems to 
hide." [99] 

Apelles, the third and greatest of the Greek painters, was a 
favourite at Court who enjoyed the same familiarity with 
Alexander the Great that Velasquez received at the hands of 
Philip II. 

"Apelles was always very courteous and fair spoken, in which 
regard King Alexander the Great was much taken with him and 
frequented his shop in his own person. He issued the straight 
commandment that no painter should be so hardy as to make a 
picture of him but only Apelles. One occasion when the King was 
in his studio and was talking much about his art and many times 
letting fall some words to little purpose, thus betraying his ignor- 
ance, Apelles, after his mild manner, would desire his grace to hold 
his peace, and say, 'Sir, no more words, for fear the prentice boys 
over there who are grinding the colours may laugh you to scorn'. 
The King had such a high opinion of him that, being otherwise a 
choleric prince, yet he would take any word at his hands in the 
best part spoken in that familiar way and never be offended." 1 [100] 

1 Plutarch gives us fuller details of Alexander's person as rendered by contemporary 
artists. Lysippus was the only sculptor Alexander would allow to portray him and 



Apelles proved himself a born courtier also by the tactful 
manner in which he painted the portrait of King Antiochus. 
The King had only one eye to see with; so Apelles painted him 
in profile, at that time a complete innovation. It became the 
fashion in this manner to conceal "the defects and blemishes 
of the visage and to make only one half of the face'*. His most 
famous portrait of Alexander depicted him holding a thunder- 
bolt and lightning in his hand. To express lightning he painted 
three shafts bound together in the middle and the illusion was 
heightened by the fingers of Alexander's hand which were 
painted in such high relief that "the lightning appeared to be 
darting clean out of the picture and not once to touch it" 

His reception at the Egyptian Court was not so friendly. 

"He could never win the love and favour of Prince Ptolomaeus, 
who at that time followed the court of K. Alexander and was 
afterwards King of Egypt. It happened that after the decease of 
Alexander, and during the reign of King Ptolomy aforesaid, 
Apelles was cast by a tempest upon the coast of Egypt and forced 
to land at Alexandria: where other painters, who were no well- 
wishers of his, bribed the king's jester to invite Apelles to take his 
supper with the king. To the court came Apelles according and 
showed himself in the presence. Ptolomy having espied him with 
a stern and angry countenance demanded of him what he made 
there, and who had sent for him; and showing him all his servitors 
who ordinarily had the inviting of guests to the king's table, com- 
manded him to say which of them had bidden him. Apelles, not 
knowing the name of the party who had brought him thither and 
being thus put to his shifts, caught up a dead coal of fire from the 
hearth and began to draw on the wall the proportion of the cousiner 
beforesaid. He had no sooner begun to trace the likeness than the 
king immediately took knowledge of the party that had played this 
prank on him and caused him this displeasure." [101] 

Apelles wrote books setting out the rules and principles of 

he made a characteristic statue of him with his head a little inclined to one side and 
"his melting eye expressed with great exactness. But Apelles, who drew him with 
thunderbolts in his hand, made his complexion browner and darker than it was 
naturally; for he was fair and of a light colour, passing into ruddiness in his face and 
upon his breast." 



painting and was fond of saying that many pictures in other 
ways excellent so often lacked "the Venus which they should 
have"; by which he meant the quality of beauty or grace. This 
was the one quality on which he prided himself in his own 
paintings. He also flattered himself that he knew when to stop. 
He believed it to be a fault with many artists that they took 
excessive pains and failed to realise the fact that "double dili- 
gence and overmuch curiosity is often hurtful". He was care- 
ful, however, in spite of that opinion, to keep his hand con- 
stantly in practice, as is attested by his motto Nulla dies sine 
linea "Be always doing something, though you do but draw 
a line." 

This proverb is well illustrated by the famous story of his 
visit to Protogenes. 

"To this purpose it is not impertinent to report a pretty occur- 
rence that fell between Protogenes and him: for being very desirous 
to be acquainted with Protogenes, a man whom he had never seen, 
as also his works, whereof there went so great a name, he embarked 
and sailed to Rhodes where his shop was, and went directly thither. 
Protogenes himself was not at home, only an old woman in the 
house who had the keeping of a mighty large table (panel) set in a 
frame, and fitted ready for a picture. And when he enquired for 
Protogenes she answered that he was not within, and seeing him 
thereupon ready to depart demanded what his name was, and who 
it was she should tell her master had asked for him. Apelles, seeing 
the aforesaid table standing before him, took a pencil in his hand 
and drew in colour a fine and small line, saying to the woman, 'Tell 
thy master that he who made this line enquired for him'. And so he 
went his ways. 

"Now when Protogenes was returned home the old woman told 
him of what had happened in his absence. And, as it is reported, the 
artist no sooner saw the draught of this small line than he knew who 
had been there, and said, 'Surely Apelles is come to town: for it is 
impossible that any but he should make in colour such fine work- 

"With that he took the pencil and with another colour drew 
within the same line a smaller than it, instructing the woman when 
he went out of doors that if the party came again she should show 



him what he had done and say that there was the man whom he had 
enquired after. 

"And so it fell out indeed; for Apelles made an errand again to 
the shop, and seeing the second line was dismayed at first and 
blushed to see himself thus overcome. But taking his pencil he cut 
the aforesaid lines throughout the length with a third colour dis- 
tinct from the rest, and left no room at all for a fourth to be drawn 
within it. When Protogenes saw this he confessed that he had met 
with his match and his master both, and made all the haste he could 
to the haven to seek for Apelles to bid him welcome and give him 
friendly entertainment. 

"As a memorial it was thought good by both to leave to posterity 
this table thus naked, without any more work on it, to the wonder 
of all men and of cunning artisans and painters especially. This 
table was consumed to ashes in that first fire that caught Caesar's 
house within the Palatine Hill And verily we took great pleasure 
before that to see it many times, containing in that large and extra- 
ordinary capacity which it had nothing in the world more than 
some lines, so fine and small that they could hardly be discerned by 
the eye. And in truth, when it stood among the excellent painted 
tables of many other workmen it seemed a very blank, having 
nothing in it. Howbeit, void and naked as it was, it drew many to it 
even in that respect, being esteemed better than any other rich and 
curious work whatever." [102] 

There has been some discussion as to the meaning of this 
trial of skill It has been suggested that the line in question was 
a profile and that Protogenes drew his own profile within that 
of Apelles, who on the second trial drew a third between the 
other two with a still finer line. This conjecture seems im- 
probable; and yet there are difficulties in thinking that the 
lines were drawn one within the other with greater and greater 
fineness. In any event it is to be interpreted as a tribute to the 
nicety of Greek draughtsmanship. 

Two other proverbs are attributed to Apelles. One is 
"Many a slip between the cup and the lip", which he illustrated 
by a picture of Ancasus being killed by a wild boar while in 
the act of drinking from a cup of wine. The other recalls the 
story of Molire reading his plays to his cook in order to gauge 



the taste of the public, and in that way to obtain an unprejudiced 

"It was also a practice with him when he had finished a work to 
set it forth in some open gallery or thoroughfare to be seen of folk 
that passed by. He himself would lie close behind it to hear what 
faults were found with it; preferring the judgment of the common 
people before his own, and imagining they would spy more narrowly 
and censure his doings sooner than he would himself. The story is 
told that a shoemaker as he went by censured his representation of 
the shoe or pantophle that he had painted in a picture, on the ground 
that there was one latchet fewer than there should be. Apelles 
acknowledged that the man said true, mended that fault by the next 
morning, and again set forth his picture as his manner was. The 
shoemaker coming again the morrow after and finding the want 
supplied which he noted the day before took some pride to himself 
that his admonition had sped so well, and was so bold as to cavil at 
somewhat about the leg. Apelles could not endure that, but putting 
forth his head from behind the picture said, 'Sirrah, remember you 
are but a shoemaker, and therefore meddle no higher, I advise you, 
than with shoes." This piece of advice came afterward to be a com- 
mon proverb, Ne Sutor supra crepidam" [103] 

Animal painting was not neglected in Greece; and here again 
exact imitation was highly valued. A contest was held to 
decide the best painter of horses. Apelles suspected that the 
other competitors would bribe the judges in order to get the 
decision and therefore asked that living horses should decide 
the question as to which pictures were most faithful to nature. 

"When he had presented before them the pictures of his con- 
currents' (rivals') horses one by one, they seemed not to joy nor 
make toward them: but no sooner had he showed (it was reported 
that he painted a mare) that of his own portraying, than they fell all 
to neigh, as taking it for one of their fellows. Which experiment 
served ever after for a test to know a good piece of workmanship of 
that kind." [104] 

Painters specialised in dogs as well as horses. Protogenes, 
a famous animal painter, took his profession so seriously that 
he lived on a diet of steeped lupins for fear that the sweetness 



of more attractive viands should dull his artistic sense. He 
concentrated his attention so closely on his work that he did 
not allow the siege of Rhodes (although he was painting in a 
little garden quite close to the camp of Demetrius) to disturb 
him, on the ground that the enemy had no quarrel with the 
arts and sciences. Demetrius in appreciation of the compliment 
paid him posted a guard for his additional safety and paid 
him frequent visits in his studio. In spite of this favourable 
treatment, Protogenes was not free from danger, if we are to 
believe the story that he painted one picture with a dagger 
presented to his heart and a sword ready to cut his throat. The 
picture in spite of these untoward circumstances did not 
altogether lack cheerfulness as it represented a satyr playing 
on a pair of bagpipes. "He gave it the title of 'Anapanomenos' 
(one at rest, or reposing himself): by which name, as well as by 
the thing itself, he wished to show that he took little thought 
or care during those dangerous troubles". Beside his reputa- 
tion for coolness in a trying situation he is to be remembered 
for a lucky accident in technique, while engaged in 

" the portraiture of a dog which is admirable and miraculous, not 
only for its art but for the accident that went in the painting thereof. 
For when he had done the dog in all parts to the contentment of his 
own mind (and that in truth was a very hard and rare matter with 
him) he could not satisfy and please himself in expressing the froth 
which fell from the dog's mouth as it panted and blowed almost 
windless with running. He was displeased with the very art itself; 
and although he thought that he had been long enough already 
about the said froth, and spent too much art and curiosity over it, 
yet something (he wist not what) needed to be diminished or altered 
therein, and die more workmanship and skill he added, the farther 
off it seemed from the truth and the nature of froth (the only mark 
that he shot at). When he had done all that he could, it seemed still 
only painted froth, and not that which came out of the dog's 
mouth; whereas it should have been the very same and no other, 
which had been there before. At this he was troubled and vexed in 
his mind, it being his wish to depict truth itself and not something 
that only bore a semblance of truth. Many a time he changed his 
pencil and colours and as often had wiped out that which was done, 



and all to see if he could hit upon it: but it would not be, for yet it 
was not to his fancy. At last, falling clean out with his own work- 
manship, because the art might be perceived in it, in a pelting chafe 
he flings me the sponge-full of colours that he had wiped out full 
against that unhappy part of the picture which had put him to all 
this trouble. But see what came of it! The sponge left the colours 
behind in better order than he could have laid them, and, in truth, 
as well as his heart could wish. Thus was the froth made to his full 
mind, and naturally indeed by mere chance, which all the wit and 
cunning in his head could not reach unto. 

"Following his example Neacles, another painter, did the like 
and sped as well in making the froth falling naturally from a horse's 
mouth; namely, by throwing his sponge against the picture when 
depicting a horse-rider cheering and chirking up his horse, yet 
reining him hard as he champed upon the bit. 

"Thus, I say, Fortune taught Protogenes how to finish his dog. 
This picture of lalysus and his dog was so well known that King 
Demetrius, when he might have captured the city of Rhodes on the 
side where Protogenes dwelt, forbear to set it on fire for fear he 
should burn it among other painted tables: and thus to spare a 
picture he lost the opportunity of winning a town." [ I0 5l 

When Sir Joshua Reynolds extolled the "grand style" of 
painting and the choosing of noble subjects from history and 
mythology, he was merely echoing an ancient prejudice against 
what were considered low and vulgar tastes. Just as Reynolds 
saw no merit in the domestic tavern scenes of the Dutch paint- 
ers, so Pliny regarded as inferior and base the kind of incident 
which Pyreicus delighted in the shops of barbers, shoe- 
makers, tailors, or poor asses bringing produce to market, and 
similar "trifling pieces" which became popular and yielded a 
goodly harvest. 

There were also popular kinds of wall painting. Ludms 
excelled in pictures of manors, farms and country houses, 
havens, vineyards, flowers in knots, groves, hills, fishpools, 
rivers and other country scenes 

"In them also he would represent sundry other shows of people, 
some walking and going to and fro on foot; others sailing and row- 
ing up and down stream upon the water; or else riding by land to their 



farms, mounted on their mules and asses or else in wagons and 
coaches. There would be folk, fishing and angling in this place, 
hawking and fowling in that; some hunting the hare, fox, or deer 
both red and fallow; others busy in harvest or vintage. In this kind 
of painting there are fair houses to be seen standing among marshes, 
and roads leading to them, ticklish and full of bogs; where the paths 
are so slippery that women as they go are afraid to set one foot afore 
another; some at every step ready to slide, others bending forward 
with their heads, as though they carried burdens on their necks and 
shoulders, and all for fear lest (their feet failing under them) they 
should catch a fall. There were thousands of such pretty conceits as 
these, full of pleasure and delight. The same Ludius decorated 
walls in the open air with paintings of cities by the sea side. All 
which kind of painting pleases the eye exceedingly well, and is 
besides of little or no cost." [106] 

A few notes are given on the technique of Greek painting* 
At a very early date it was the custom to mix colours with 
wax and apply them hot with brushes and implements similar 
to palette knives. This was the well-known encaustic painting. 
As a rule tempera, or water colour, was used. Oil was some- 
times employed as a diluent. Apelles Is said to have employed 
a "black varnish" which gave a gloss and lustre to the colours 
and also helped to preserve a picture from "dust and filthiness", 
at the same time imparting "a secret deepening and sadness to 
those colours which were too gay and brilliant". Sir Joshua 
Reynolds interpreted this as being the secret of the glazing and 
scrambling of the Venetian masters. 

Advocates for the use of only a few colours can quote the 
instances of Apelles and other excellent painters who used 
only four white, yellow ochre, the red ruddle of Pontus and 
ordinary shoemakers' black. Afterwards many purples, or 
reds, were added to the palette; also indigo from India. In 
course of time there is evidence of an advanced study of colour. 
Many theories were discussed on a problem that has since so 
markedly affected modern art. It was felt that in landscape the 
effects of distance and atmosphere were highly important points 
to consider in the construction of a picture; and distinctions 



were made between hard unsympathetic schemes of colouring 
and those that showed freedom and a feeling for delicacy. In 
many of the Pompeian paintings colour was used in surpris- 
ingly luminous schemes of yellow, light blue, pink and violet; 
and yet this luminosity never threatened to supersede the 
demand for accurate drawing. These wall decorations indicate 
the decorative taste that was appreciated in Italy in the first 
century charming friezes in which amoribni, or winged 
cupids, are seen pouring wine out of jars almost as large as 
themselves, driving in horse races, posing as young chemists, 
weighing the ingredients of prescriptions in scales and pound- 
ing them in mortars. Festoons, baskets of flowers and fruit, 
bright-coloured birds formed running patterns across the walls, 
alternated with designs of satyrs dancing on slack ropes. 
Central panels contained the fashionable "classical subjects" 
of which the most common were Ariadne swimming on a 
dolphin, Perseus freeing Andromeda, Theseus victorious over 
the Minotaur, Apollo and Daphne, Medea before the murder 
of her children, and similar tragic scenes. Also there were the 
typical grotesque pictures in which contests with centaurs 
occurred; fish, birds, still-life subjects, nymphs cutting off the 
beard of a satyr, funeral portraits and landscapes in which the 
most common incident is a temple set by a sacred tree. 

By good fortune there has been preserved a copy in mosaic, 
about five feet broad, of the "Battle of Alexander", the picture 
painted by Philoxenos for King Cassander which Pliny speaks 
of as unsurpassed for exquisite art. Darius is seen flying from 
the battlefield in his chariot, having just witnessed the death of 
one of his bodyguard, thrust through the body by Alexander 
who stands confronting the Persian king. Also, the well- 
known "Medea" at Pompeii can be traced to Timomachus the 
Byzantine who, according to Pliny, painted a companion 
"Ajax", both of which pictures, he says, were hung in the 
temple of Venus Genetrix at Rome. 

There is no mention of women painters in the early days, 
and probably none were known in Greece. Rome and Naples, 
however, could claim some excellent "Paintresses": 



"Amongst them was Tirnarete, the daughter of Nicon, who made 
that excellent picture of Diana at Ephesus, a most antique picture. 
Also Irene, the daughter of Cratinus the painter, learned under her 
father and drew the picture of a young damsel which is at Eleusine, 
a Calypso, a picture of an old man, and other paintings. And 
Marcus Varro tells us that when he was a young man there was at 
Rome a paintress by name Laela, who passed her whole life in 
virginity and was exceedingly skilful in painting with the pencil 
and also in enamelling with hot steel in ivory. Her delight was 
principally in drawing women, and there is at Naples a large picture 
by her of an Old Woman and also one of herself at a mirror or 
looking-glass. It was said that no painter had a quicker hand or 
went faster away with his work than she did, and her works fetched 
higher prices than those of Sopolis and Dionysius, the most famous 
painters of the day." [107] 


Of Sculptors 

THE ancient world was flooded with images, large and small. 
The numbers congregated in Rome itself were so considerable 
that, Pliny says, they "obscured and darkened the city/' The 
Baths alone, a building of ample proportions, was crowned 
with as many as three hundred statues, in metal and marble; 
and we have already seen how plentifully supplied was the 
theatre of Scaurus. Indeed the appetite for statuary was in 
danger of becoming a disease. Gardens contained colonnades 
sheltering avenues of images, and the outlying gardens were 
guarded by stone effigies, as if by so many sentries posted 
on duty against invisible intruders. In the public places would 
be placed an occasional Colossus the kind of monument of 
the great man of whom Shakespeare said, "We petty men 
walk under his huge legs and peep about". 

It is not altogether easy to account for a craze which was so 
strongly condemned under the Jewish law, condemned also by 
the Early Christian Fathers, as well as under the rule of Islam. 
These interdicts pointed to the danger of the encouragement 
of superstition. Pliny admits that the satyrs and figures of 
Venus placed in the gardens were meant as "keepers and reme- 
dies against envy and witchcraft". The gods were openly 
worshipped in realistic form, and the fame of Phidias' statue 
in gold and ivory was due to the intense religious feeling 
which it excited. Nor was the personal desire to leave a 
memorial any less potent an incentive, as was proved by the 
carrying of figures and busts of ancestors at the Roman 
funerals by the surviving members of the family. Then again 
the custom of placing figures of memorable authors in libraries 
was dictated by the same material suggestions of immortality. 



"I must not pass over one new device and invention come up of 
late, namely, to dedicate and set up in libraries the statues in gold 
and silver, or at least in brass, of those divine and heavenly men, 
whose immortal spirits do speak still, and ever shall, in those places 
where their books are. And although it be impossible to recover 
the true and lively portraits of many of them, yet we forbear not 
for all that to devise some image to represent their face and person, 
though we are sure it is nothing like them: and the want thereof 
kindles in us a great desire and longing to know what kind of visage 
it might be indeed which was never delivered unto us: as it appears 
by the statue of Homer. Certainly, in my opinion, there can be no 
greater argument of the felicity and happiness of any man than to 
have all the world evermore desirous to know, What kind of person 
he was while he lived?" [108] 

In tracing the origin of lifelike images in bronze, the 
precedent seems to be that of winners at the Greek Games 
who were presented with their statues if they won an event 
three times an honour which finds a parallel in the rules 
governing the winning outright of many modern challenge 

"In old time they did not give the actual likeness in brass unless 
they were such worthy persons as deserved to be immortalised; 
such as for winning the prizes at any of the four sacred games held 
in Greece, principally those of Olympia where it was an ordinary 
thing to see the statues of those who had achieved any victory there. 
But in the case of any one fortunate enough to obtain victory at 
those solemnities three several times, his statue in brass was so 
lively and perfectly cast, that it resembled his person full and whole, 
according to every joint and muscle of the body, yea, even to his 
hair of head and beard." [109] 

Whether it is correct or not to assign the origin of statues 
from the life to the winners at the Greek Games, it is certainly 
true that the gods were all depicted as expressing the ideal of 
physical beauty which it was the object of Greek athleticism 
to cultivate. But the custom soon spread to statues of distin- 
guished public men which were dotted about cities much in 
the same way that they are now, the figures being represented 
either in togas, or nude, or riding in chariots, on on horseback. 



"The Athenians used to honour men of singular virtue and 
valour by representing their personages in brass, but I am not sure 
whether those Athenians were the first to bring up that manner or 
no. It is true that long ago they caused the statues of Harmodius 
and Aristogiton to be made of brass at the charges of the state and 
to be erected in a public place, because they had courage to kill 
Pisistratus who tyrannised over them; and this fell out in that very 
year in which the kings were also deposed at Rome and expelled 
from the city for ever. In process of time this manner was taken 
up in all parts of the world, so plausible to the nature of man is the 
ambitious desire to perpetuate their memory by such monuments: 
so much so that there is not a good town within our provinces but 
they have begun already to beautify their market places with many 
such ornaments of brazen statues and images, with titles, honours 
and dignities engraved on the bases, that posterity might be in- 
formed by such inscriptions as well as by their tombs and sepul- 

"In ancient times all the Statues were in their gowns and robes. 
Men also admired them naked, resting on their spears which they 
held in their hands. This pattern came from the Greeks, resembling 
their young men who exercise in their public wrestling-places, 
called Gymnasia. Indeed it is the Greek fashion to hide no part of 
the body but to show all, whereas the Romans (like soldiers and 
military men), used to make their statues armed with a cuirass or 
breast-plate only, leaving the rest of the body discovered and bare. 
Julius Caesar was well content that his image should be set up in 
the Forum armed with an habargeon, or coat of mail. As for the 
statue of L. Actius, a famous Poet, I will report to you what writers 
have recorded; that being himself a little man and low of stature, he 
caused his image to be made exceeding big and tall and to be set up 
thus in the temple of the Muses at Rome. As for the statues repre- 
sented on horseback they were in great repute among the Romans, 
but no doubt they had their precedent from the Greeks. At first 
they honoured in this way such horsemen as had won the prize on 
horseback in the race at the sacred games held in Greece. After- 
wards those who had excelled the best at the chariot races obtained 
the same honour whether drawn with two horses or four. From 
this came the custom with our valiant captains and victorious 
generals to have their statues made riding triumphant in their 
chariots." [i 10] 

p 209 


A still higher distinction was for the effigy to be mounted 
on a pillar in the manner of our own Nelson and Duke of 
York. The reason for such a lofty station is not far to seek: 

"Statues erected upon columns or pillars are of great antiquity. 
P. Minutius obtained the honour; for being purveyor-general of 
corn for the city during a dearth he behaved himself so well in that 
office that this statue of brass was erected upon a pillar outside the 
city by a universal contribution of the people who gave voluntarily 
towards the charges thereof, every man to the value of an ounce of 
brass coin. As for the statue of Horatius Codes which remains to 
this day, there was another reason for it and one of greater credit 
and importance; for he alone sustaining the whole charge and brunt 
of King Porsena's army made good the wooden bridge over the 
Tiber at Rome and caused the enemy to abandon the place. Now if 
a man is desirous to know the reason of these columns and pillars, it 
was to signify that such persons were now advanced and lifted up 
above all other mortal men; which also is meant by the triumphal 
. arches, a new invention and devised only of late days; yet it, like all 
other such honourable testimonies, began first with the Greeks." 


Cato when he was Censor had a strong objection to statues 
of Roman ladies being set up in public. His protests against 
this pride and vainglory, however, were unavailing and one 
illustrious and blameless example was that of Cornelia, the 
daughter of Scipio Africanus, and distinguished mother of the 
two Gracchi. She was represented sitting down, and it is 
pointed out that by some oversight her shoes were unlaced. 

The alternative of statues on pillars was to make them of 
colossal size. Of these several stood in Rome of Apollo in 
the Capitol, of Jupiter in Mars field, and of Hercules at 

Nero was an eager imitator of the stupendous and ordered 
Zenodorus, who had made an enormous Mercury at Auvergne 
in France, to cast a colossus of himself. But he died before it 
was finished and the people so detested his memory that the 
statue was dedicated to the Sun instead. Pliny says that he had 
himself visited Zenodorus's workshop and seen the clay moulds 
prepared for the casting. 



Nero had no better fortune with a painting on canvas on the 
same magnificent scale: 

"The Emperor commanded that a portrait of himself should be 
painted on linen cloth, after the manner of a giantlike colossus, 
120 feet high, a thing that never had been heard or seen before. 

"But see what came of it! When this monstrous picture (which 
was drawn and made in the garden of Marius) was done and finished, 
the lightning and fire from heaven caught it, and not only consumed 
it but also burnt the best part of the building about the garden." 


There were Lilliputian images, too, sometimes emphasised 
by being held in the hand of a life-size or larger figure. Thus 
Theodorus, who made the Labyrinth at Samos, was represented 
with a file in his right hand 

"and in his left he holds (with three fingers) a little pretty coach 
with four horses, which afterwards was taken from the rest and sent 
to Praeneste. Both the coach and the team of horses and the coach- 
men were couched in so small a space that a little fly (which he also 
made with it) covered it all with her pretty wings." [ JI 3] 

The collecting of works of art became a passion with the 
wealthy Romans. One favourite outlet for this enthusiasm 
was the small bronzes which went by the name of "Corinthian 
brass", to which Horace refers. Many examples of this old 
work were recovered at the time of the Renaissance and 
successfully imitated. Owners loved to carry these pieces about 
with them wherever they went. Nero was never without a 
favourite statuette of an Amazon; Alexander the Great also 
always had with him four metal figures to support his tent on 
his campaigns. We gain an idea of the range of this class of 
workmanship from the following account: 

"Of the workmanship of Polycletus was the brazen image repre- 
senting one scraping and rubbing himself in the bath or hothouse; 
as also another all naked and challenging to the dice. The proper 
and special gift he had above all other was the art of making images 
stand on one leg; and yet Varro says that all his images are four- 
square and all after one pattern. 

"As for Lysippus of Sicyon, Duris says that he learned the art by 



himself and was taught by no other. But Tullus states that he was 
an apprentice to it and having been at first by occupation only a 
poor tinker or a plain coppersmith at the most, he began to take 
heart and proceed further by an answer that Eupompus the painter 
gave him. For when he asked this painter's counsel as to whom 
he should follow as a pattern of all the workmen who had gone 
before him, he pointed to a crowd of people and said that he would 
do best to imitate Nature herself and no one artificer. He proved in 
the end so excellent a workman that he left behind him the most 
pieces of any man, of all sorts and fullest of art and good workman- 
ship; and among the rest an image of a man currying, rubbing and 
scraping the sweat and filth off his own body, which M. Agrippa 
caused to be set before his own baths; and the Emperor Tiberius 
Cassar took so much pleasure in it that, notwithstanding at his first 
coming to the crown he knew well enough how to command his 
own affections, yet he could not now rule himself, but must needs 
have this image removed to his own bed-chamber and another set 
in the place of it. At this the common people (see their contumacy 
and frowardness !) were so much offended that they rested not with 
open mouth to exclaim upon him in all their Theatres and cried to 
have their Apoxyomenos set again in the old place, insomuch that 
the Emperor was obliged to restore it, although he loved it so well. 
This Lysippus also won greater credit by another image represent- 
ing a woman, drunk, piping or playing on a flute; also by a kennel 
of hounds together with the huntsman and all belonging to the 
game. The person of King Alexander the Great he likewise 
expressed in brass, beginning at the prince's childhood. The 
Emperor Nero was so greatly enamoured of one image of Alexander 
that he had it gilded all over. But afterwards, seeing that the greater 
the value bestowed upon it by laying on gold the less was the art of 
it seen (so that it lost all its former beauty and grace) he caused the 
gold to be taken off again. And indeed the image thus ungilded 
seemed far more precious than it was when it stood so enriched 
with gold in spite of all the hacks, cuts, gashes and rases all over the 
body where die gold did stick and was still to be seen." [114] 

It was natural to enquire how the art of modelling the figure 
came about. The answer is supplied in a charming love story. 

"It is said that Dibutades, a Sicyonian and a Potter, was the first 
to make an image in the same clay as that of which he made his pots. 



This was on the occasion of his daughter being in love with a 
young man, and whenever he was to take a long journey away from 
home she used to mark on the wall the shadow of her lover's face 
by candle light so that she might still enjoy his visage in his absence. 
Her father seeing this followed these lines and by clapping clay on 
the surface made a face in relief which he then put into the furnace 
to bake among his other vessels, and when it was hardened showed 
it abroad. It is said that this very piece remained safe in the baths of 
Corinth until Mummius destroyed the city." [115] 

Then, again, Lysistratus of Sicyon was said to be the first to 
take a plaster cast of a man's face. This is of interest because 
it gives a clue to the naturalistic feeling which characterised 
Greek art. It is said that when Lysistratus had taken an 
impression, in wax from the plaster case, he "used to fashion 
the same more exactly"; in other words, he would add the 
necessary finishing touches to make the model attractive. From 
this it appears that he was the first master of faithful portraiture 
because people said he alone made true likenesses of his model, 
whereas "before him every man studied only to make the 
fairest faces and never considered whether they were like or 

It is clear at any rate that the Greek sculptors Praxiteles is 
cited as an example always worked from clay models. There 
is little doubt, too, that drapery stiffened with wet clay was 
sometimes laid over the models and that from this the sculptor 
worked; a technique which accounts for the gracefully clinging 
robes beneath which the beautiful lines of the figure are visible. 

Still-life was also executed in clay clusters of grapes and 
fishes, so lifelike, we are told, that anyone looking at them 
could scarcely tell them from real grapes and fishes. Successful 
imitation was admired as the very essence of art. 

To show how the Earth itself was to be held in the highest 
honour, images of all the gods were ordered to be made of 
clay only. The Jupiter in the Capitol was made by a potter and 
coloured all over with vermilion. 1 The chariots with four 

1 These curious forms of colouration are significant. The predilection for painting 
the figure red as a manifestation of power and triumph was frequently exhibited by 



horses which stood on the lantern of the temple were also of 
the same material 

"In these days, notwithstanding the infinite wealth and riches we 
have grown unto, in all our divine service and solemn sacrifices 
there is no libation or taste made to the gods out of Chalcedony or 
crystal bowls but only in earthen cups. If a man consider these 
things aright he will find the bounty and the goodness of the Earth 
to be inerrable. Even omitting the benefits she has bestowed upon 
mankind in yielding us so many sorts of corn, wine, apples and 
suchlike fruits, herbs, shrubs, bushes, trees, medicinable drugs, 
metals and minerals, how beneficial is the Earth to us in these works 
of pottery which we are glutted with (they are so usual and ordinary) 
in yielding us conduit-pipes to convey water to our baths, tiles 
flat yet hooked and made with crochets at one end to hang upon 
the sides of the roof, champfered to lie in gutters to shoot off water, 
curbed for crests to clasp the ridge on both sides, bricks to lie in 
walls, to say nothing of the vessels that are turned with the wheel 
and made round; yea and great tuns and pipes of earth devised to 
contain wine and water; results, all of them, of an art which induced 
King Numa to make a seventh fraternity, or Company of Potters." 


The fact that silver and gold vessels were not used in the 
service of the gods, but only pottery (up to the date, at least, 
of the conquest of Asia), illustrates the prejudice which existed 
amongst the most conservative Romans against anything 
which appeared to be a tampering with nature. There was 
something felt to be repugnant even in, quarrying marble, in 
disfiguring the mountains, and violating the earth's surface by 
digging for metals not so much from a sense of the spoliation 
of beauty, as in showing a lack of decent respect for Dame 
Nature. We are reminded of similar protests of Wordsworth 
and Ruskin against the monstrous railroads gashing the 

victorious Roman generals. (Possibly the phrase, "to paint the town red", points to 
a similar mode of differentiating appearances to mark a special occasion.) Certainly, 
as Herodotus says, the Libyans liked to show off with red instead of black skins; 
and ancient Britons evidently with their wood stain preferred as full dress a tone 
approximating to black rather than that natural to a white man. 

Also in the Apocrypha we find "Then he giveth it the semblance of the image 
of a man, smearing it with vermilion, and with paint colouring it red/* 



countryside. Pliny urged the plea on behalf of the mountains 
which nature framed to strengthen the joints of the earth, to 
tame the violence of the rivers and break the force of the sea. 
It was not mere sentimentalism on his part, but a dislike of 
luxury and innovation, whatever form it might take. 

"We build ships for the transport of our marble. They carry 
the cliffs and tops of high hills to and fro amid the waves and billows 
of the sea; and never fear the danger of that most fell and cruel 
element; indeed we surpass the madness and vanity of those who 
search as high as the clouds for a cup (for they held Crystal to be a 
kind of ice) in order that we may have the satisfaction of drinking 
our water cold. 

"Now let every man think of the excessive prices of these mon- 
strous pieces and masses of stone he sees carried by land and sea. 
Let him consider how much happier a life many a man would have 
without all this; for what use, or pleasure rather, is there except to 
lie in beds and chambers of stones that forsooth are spotted, just 
as if they never considered how the darkness of the night bereaves 
the one half of each man's life of these delights and joys? 

"Indeed, when I ponder and weigh these things in my mind I 
must needs think great shame and impute a great fault to our fore- 
fathers that lived long since, and blush in their behalf. Laws were 
enacted and prohibitions published by the Censors, forbidding that 
certain parts of a Boar's neck, or Dormice, should be served up at 
great feasts, and yet there has been no act or statute ordained to 
restrain the bringing in of marble, or of sailing into foreign parts to 
search for the same." [ I1 7\ 

Marble in itself was a beautiful material, and the world was 
rich in the many varieties. Most of them were spotted. The 
green marble from Lacedsemon was more gay and pleasant 
than, any other. Serpentine marble was called Ophites because 
the specks in it resembled those in a serpent's skin, while 
Augustan marble was marked with veins curved like the 
waves of the sea. Of a kind of Basault, reckoned to be a marble, 
Vespasian dedicated in his temple of Peace a statue representing 
the River Nile, with sixteen little children playing about it. 
A column of Lucullan black marble was erected before the 
house of Scaurus of such an immense weight that he had to 



give security against any damage done to the sewers while it 
was being conveyed through the city. 

Pillars of variegated marble, it is of interest to note, were 
at first used in temples not for show, but simply for strength. 
In fact, marble was thought little of in the earliest days and 
only later was it slit into thin plates, with which to cover walls 
as a decoration. Pliny quotes Homer and also a presumably 
witty remark of Cicero to prove his point: 

"Even in Homer's time a difference was made between ordinary 
stone and marble: for this Poet says plainly, that Paris caught a rap 
upon the mouth with a marble stone. And yet whenever he describes 
the most stately palaces of kings and princes, he never makes men- 
tion of any other material to adorn them than Brass, Gold, Elec- 
trum, Silver, and Ivory, and not one word of Marble. But, as I 
take it, the first time that these marbles of sundry spots and colours 
were discovered was in the quarries of the Islanders of Chios, when 
they digged for stone to fortify their city with walls; whereupon M. 
Cicero played merrily upon them with a pleasant conceit. For 
when they showed every one that came, and among the rest to 
him, the walls they had built of marble, seeming to take great pride 
in their sumptuous and magnificent building, Cicero remarked: 
'What ado is here! I should have marvelled much more at your 
wall, if you had built it out of the quarry of Tyburtum' meaning, 
of ordinary stone." [i 1 8] 

The kind of marble favoured by the sculptors was the white 
marble of Paros "Lychnites, or candle marble" so called 
because it was hewn out of the rock by candlelight in under- 
ground galleries. 

The later preference for unsullied white statuary is a com- 
paratively modern taste. Egyptian, Greek, Chinese and Gothic 
sculptures were all painted. That Greek statuary was painted 
the flesh in pink or buff, and the hair and drapery and other 
parts in appropriate tones is proved by a passage in which 
Pliny describes the use of Punic wax. This wax was of the 
finest possible quality, prepared after long bleaching in the sun; 
and it is expressly stated that it was used "in treating marble 
figures to make them brilliant". That is to say, the marble 



was first tinted, possibly with a milk medium, and then 
covered with a wax varnish, in which gum and resin may have 
been incorporated, to preserve and intensify the effect. In the 
Acropolis Museum there is a roomful of statues which show 
many traces of this colouring and the impression created when 
they stood in their full glory must have been inspiriting and 
realistic. Terra-cotta figures were first painted with white and 
then delicately toned. 

To set beside the story of the daughter of Dibutades, the 
potter, who wished to retain a sketch of her absent lover is 
another to account for the beginning of statuary in the round. 
It appears that one of the first attempts was a caricature which 
had unhappy results: 

"It is recorded that the Poet, Hipponax, had a passing foul and 
ill-favoured face of his own; and Bupalus and Anthermus could 
find not better sport than to counterfeit both him and his visage as 
lively as possible in stone. By way of a joke they set up the same 
in an open place where merry youths met in knots together, and so 
they proposed him as a laughing stock to the whole world. Hippo- 
nax could not endure this indignity, and to be revenged upon these 
companions sharpened his style or pen against them and cursed 
them with such bitter rhymes and biting libels that, as some believe, 
being weary of their lives, they knit their necks in halters and so 
hanged themselves. [ 11 9\ 

If the story is to be taken seriously, it may be a reference to 
the earliest styles which were too archaic in character to appeal 
to the lovers of the naturalistic schools of classical sculpture. 
It is conceivable that Pliny, had he seen the sculpture of the 
South Sea Islanders, would have refused to accept it seriously., 
but rather as the kind of buffoonery of which the repentant 
Bupalus and Anthermus were guilty. 

Greek sculpture reached its highest point with Phidias, 
beyond all question the greatest all-round genius that Greece 
produced. He was admittedly the greatest sculptor in stone and 
marble; his Jupiter Olympius, resplendent in gold and ivory, 
was one of the seven wonders of the world. Also his statue of 



Minerva, 1 which stood in the Parthenon, twenty-six cubits 
high, was made of ivory and gold. In addition to being a 
painter, he was the first to practise and teach the art of chasing 
and embossing metal. Of this work the finest example was 
held to be the shield held by the Goddess Minerva. 

"On its embossed and swelling compass he engraved the battle 
in which the Amazons were defeated by Theseus; and on the hollow 
part and concavity he enchased the conflict between the Gods and 
the Giants. Upon the shoes or pantofles she is wearing he portrayed 
the fight between the Lapithae and the Centaurs; so full compact of 
art was everything about her and so curiously and artificially con- 
trived. To the story chased upon the base or pedestal under the 
statue he gave the name of the Birth of Pandora; and there are 
standing by her the gods to the number of thirty. Amongst them 
the goddess Victory is of most admirable workmanship, and 
artists who are skillful in these matters greatly admire the fell ser- 
pent and also the monster Sphinx made in brass, under the spear 
that Minerva holds in her hand." [120] 

It appears that a shield of Minerva which he painted in 
colour rivalled in merit the one he made of brass. Statues "in 
cloaks and mantles" were attributed to him; also a naked colos- 
sus, or giant. Finally, he supervised the building of the Par- 
thenon, the wonderful temple which crowned the Acropolis. 

Praxiteles, who ranks after Phidias, was chiefly noted for 
the Venus of Cnidos, which made the city famous. 

"His works are to be seen at Athens, in that conspicuous street 
called Ceramicum: but of all the images that ever were made (I say 
not by Praxiteles only, but by all the workmen that were in the 
world) his Venus which he wrought for the people of Cnidos is the 
best. It was so exquisite and singular that many a man embarked 
and sailed to Cnidos for no other business but to see and behold it. 
He made two of them, one with a veil and arrayed decently in 
apparel, which the men of Cos bought; for being put to their choice, 
they, like honest men, preferred it to the other which was naked 
(notwithstanding that Praxiteles tendered them both at one and the 

1 An interesting point is mentioned by Herodotus that the dress in the statues 
of Minerva was taken from the garments of the Libyan women which were made 
of leather with fringes of leather thongs instead of serpents. 



same price). The statue which they rejected the Cnidians bargained 
for, and indeed (to speak of workmanship) it was infinitely better, 
and there was no comparison between them in the general opinion. 
Indeed King Nicomedes would gladly have bought it of the 
Cnidians, and offered them enough; for he offered to discharge all 
debts that their city was engaged in, which were very great sums. 
But they would not hearken unto him, being content to live in debt, 
yea and to abide and endure any forfeitures, exegents, executions, 
and extents whatsoever rather than part with their Venus. And to 
speak the, truth, they had good reason to do so, for that one image 
of Praxiteles was their chief credit; it ennobled their city, and drew 
resort from all parts thither. 

'This Venus was shrined in a little chapel by herself within a 
tabernacle, so devised that it could be seen from every point of 
view; an arrangement with which the goddess herself (as men were 
verily persuaded) was well enough pleased, and showed her con- 
tentment therein to all comers. For look upon her as one would, 
she was amiable and admirable every way." [121] 

His work in metal was almost as famous as his "cutting of 

"For there are most beautiful cast images of brass that he made, 
to wit, the ravishing of Proserpina by Pluto; a Spinster spinning: 
the image of drunkenness: god Bacchus attended with one of the 
Satyrs, a noble piece of work which for the great bruit that went of 
it the Greeks surnamed Periboetos (much famed). He also made 
the goddess Venus which was melted when the chapel in which she 
stood was burnt (during the reign of Claudius Caesar), an exquisite 
piece of work, comparable to his Venus in marble which all the 
world speaks so much of. He portrayed also in brass a woman 
making chaplets of flowers which goes by the name of Stephusa; a 
carrier of flagons or wine pots; and a foul old trot and a nasty, 
bearing the title of Spilumene. Furthermore, he cast in brass a 
youth lying in wait with an arrow to kill a Lizard which was ready 
to creep close to him and to sting." [12,2] 

The works of Praxiteles to be seen at Rome included statues 
of Good Adventure and Good Fortune; the religious women 
of the order of Bacchus, called the furious Maenades; and the 
holy nuns or votaries called the Caryatides. 



Scopas was a still more versatile artist. He was represented 
at Rome by the images of Venus, Pothos and Phaeton "hon- 
oured in every ceremonious devotion as right only saints"; 
also by an Apollo on, the Palatine and the fairy goddess Vesta, 
sitting in a chair attended by two handmaids in the Gardens 
of Servilius. 

Of a more secular character were 

"his images in the chapel of Cneus Domitius, within the Circus of 
Flaminius; to wit, Neptune himself, dame Thetis, and her son 
Achilles; the Sea-nymphs or Mermaids called Nereids, mounted 
upon Dolphins, Whales, and mighty Sea-horses called Hippo- 
campi; moreover, the Sea-trumpeters Tritons, with all the choir 
and train attending upon Sir Phorcus a Sea-god, and the mighty 
fishes called Pristes, besides many other monsters of the sea; all 
wrought by one and the same hand so curiously, that if he had 
sitten about the making of them all his life- time and done nothing 
else, one would have thought it work enough, and a good deed." 

Other works at Rome attributed either to Scopas or 
Praxiteles were dame Niobe ready to die together with all her 
sweet children, and an image of Cupid holding a thunderbolt 
or lightning in his hand, ready to shoot. This Cupid was sup- 
posed to be a likeness of Alcibiades, accounted the handsomest 
youth of his day. 

Pliny ends his account of sculpture with a few curiosities 
which are worth quoting. One artist, Pasiteles, born in Magna 
Graecia, was made a Roman citizen in recognition of his great 
skill, especially for an ivory image of Jupiter. He was less 
happy, however, with animals. 

"It so happened that being one day about the Arsenal, where 
there were some wild beasts newly brought out of Africa, he 
looked in through the bars of a cage to behold a lion, and make a 
counterfeit of him. But as he was engraving in stone according to 
the pattern, behold, out of another cage a panther broke loose, to 
no small danger of that most curious and painful workman. It is 
said that he made many works, but it is not precisely set down 
which were of his doing. 



"M. Varro also highly extols Arcesilaus, of whose handiwork 
he says that he had a lioness in marble, and certain Winged Cupids 
playing with her; some seeming to hold her fast bound, others 
forcing her to drink out of a horn, others again seeming to shoe her 
with their socks; and all this pretty antic-work was of one entire 

"Moreover, I cannot conceal from you one pretty thing to be 
observed, which we all know to be true, that in one chapel of 
Jupiter all the pictures therein, as also all the ceremonial service 
belonging thereto, are respective altogether to the feminine sex and 
bear reference to the worship of a goddess. This happened at first 
by mere chance, but was continued afterwards. For when the 
temple of Juno was finished, the porters who had the carriage of 
the images intended to stand there mistook their marks and carried 
thither those which were appointed for the chapel of Jupiter; and 
contrariwise those for Juno, into the chapel of Jupiter. Which 
being once done was not altered again, but taken for a presage and 
religiously kept ever afterwards; as if the gods themselves had so 
ordered and appointed it and made an exchange. This is the reason 
also why in the aforesaid chapel of Juno there is observed the kind 
of service which was meant for Jupiter. 

"To conclude, there have been certain workmen that have grown 
to great fame by cutting and graving in minute pieces of marble. 
Myrmecides, for example, carved in marble a chariot with four 
horses, and a man to drive the same, in so small a space that a poor 
fly might cover all with her little wings. As for Callicrates, he cut 
in stone the similitude and proportion of ants in so narrow a 
compass that it was almost impossible to see the feet and other 
parts of the body." [124] 

Pliny does not omit a word of commendation for the un- 
known artist whose fame has by some accident of fortune 
been overlooked, probably because others who were better 
known have worked with him. The statue of the Laocoon and 
the decorations of the Pantheon are instances of this neglect. 

"Moreover, there were many cunning workmen whose fame is 
obscured, because although many singular pieces and those most 
unmatchable have passed through their hands, yet the number of 
those who have joined in the workmanship together has been a 
check and bar to the fame of each; for there is no one among them 



that can take the whole of the credit, nor can many together very 
well be named. This may be seen in the image of Laocoon, which 
remains within the palace of Emperor Titus, a piece of work to be 
preferred (no doubt) before all pictures or cast images; and yet we 
do not know which one artificer to praise for it. Agesander, Poly- 
dorus, and Athenodorus, Rhodians, all most excellent workmen, 
agreed to express lively in one entire stone Laocoon himself, his 
children, and the wonderful intricate winding of the serpents clasp- 
ing and knitting them about. In the same way a man will see the 
houses Palatine of the Caesars fully furnished with right excellent 
statues, which a number of sculptors wrought together. 

"As for the temple called Pantheon, which Agrippa built, Dio- 
genes of Athens enriched it with marble images. The Virgins, go- 
ing under the name of Caryatides, erected upon the chapters of the 
columns in that temple are commended as masterpieces for work- 
manship. The other images also which are placed on the very 
top of the lantern of the foresaid temple are thought to be excellent 
pieces; but as they stand so high and cannot well be discerned, 
there is less speech of them." [125] 



Of Architecture and the Seven Wonders 

THE greatest marvels executed by the hand of man have been 
associated with such permanent memorials as buildings, 
monuments and statues. The "Seven Wonders of the World" 
were picked out from the famous examples of architecture as 
the most likely to live for ever. The list included the Temple 
of Diana in Ephesus; the sepulchre of Mausolus; the Colossus 
of the Sun at Rhodes; the statue of Jupiter Olympius; the 
Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which were largely architec- 
tural; the Egyptian Pyramids; and the obelisk of Semiramis. 

Examples of Roman architecture were omitted from the 
list as being too recent to be ranked at such a high level. Yet 
some of the Roman buildings attained to almost equal celebrity; 
such as the Golden Palace of Nero, which extended from the 
Palatine to the Esquiline hill. Pliny was greatly concerned 
with the waste of land involved in this estate, and laments the 
fact that so much ground was monopolised by the Emperors 
while the war-veterans received such scant consideration 

"Twice in our time we have seen the whole pourprise of Rome 
taken up to make the palaces of two Emperors, C. Caligula and 
Nero. As for that of Nero (that nothing might be wanting of 
superfluity in the highest degree) he caused it to be all gilded, and 
it was called The Golden Palace. 

"Why, those noble Romans who were the founders of our 
Empire, who went from the very Plough-tail or else out of their 
country cabins to manage the wars, to achieve brave feats of arms, 
to conquer mighty nations and to return in triumph to the city 
such, I say, had not as much free land in the whole world as would 
serve for one of the cellars of these Prodigals!" [126] 



Then there were at Rome the Baths, built on a scale of great 
dignity and impressiveness. The style set the model for the 
future public buildings of Europe, a classic tradition that 
remains one of the chief glories of Rome. Unfortunately Pliny 
makes no mention of the Coliseum which was completed in 
the year after his death. We are told that the facade of the 
Baths was crowned with three-hundred statues, some of brass 
and others of marble, and supported by 400 marble pillars. 
It contained 700 storage tanks and 105 conduits yielding 
water at cocks and spouts. There were, in all, 170 baths and 
"stoves in which people of all sorts and degrees might bathe 
and sweat free of cost and not pay a denier". And that, Pliny 
says, was only a beginning. 

The water supply of Rome needed a stupendous effort in 
the construction of aqueducts, sewers and baths. Fourteen 
aqueducts supplied Rome with three hundred millions of 
gallons of water daily. The sewers that were constructed 
allowed seven rivers to meet under the city in one main 
channel and sweep everything before them into the Tiber. 
The work was carried out under conditions of forced labour. 
As an engineering feat alone, it was remarkable that the masonry 
was able to resist the pressure caused by sudden floods; for 

"then the rivers shake the paving under them and reverberate against 
the sides of the walls about them. Sometimes also they receive the 
Tiber water into them when he rises extraordinarily, and then you 
will see the stream of two contrary waters affront and charge one 
another with great force and violence within under the ground. Yet 
for all this these water works yield not a jot but abide firm and fast 
without any sensible decay occasioned by it. Moreover, these 
streams often carry down huge and heavy pieces of stone within 
them and mighty loads are drawn over them continually, yet these 
arched conduits do not settle under the one or are shaken with the 
other. Many a house falls down of itself and the ruins beat against 
these vaults, to say nothing of the fires and terrible earthquakes 
which shake the whole earth about them: yet for all these injuries 
they have continued almost eight hundred years inexpugnable. 

"Here, by the way, I will not conceal from you a circumstance 
which even the best and most renowned Chroniclers have passed 



over in silence. "When King Tarquinius caused these vaults under- 
ground to be made and forced the common people to labour hard 
thereat with their own hands, it happened that many a good Roman 
citizen, overtoiled in this kind of work, chose rather to kill them- 
selves to be rid of this irksome and painful life. So that daily there 
were people missing and their bodies found after they had perished. 
The king, therefore, to prevent farther mischief and to provide that 
the work begun might be brought to an end, devised a remedy, 
which was never invented before nor practised afterwards, that the 
bodies of as many as were thus found dead should be hung upon 
gibbets, exposed not only to the view of their fellow-citizens to be 
despised as cursed creatures but also to the wild and ravenous 
fowls of the air to be torn and devoured. The Romans (as they are 
the only nation under heaven impatient of any dishonour) seeing 
this object presented before their eyes were mightily abashed. And 
as this mind of theirs had gained them victory many a time in 
desperate battles, so also it now guided and directed them; and 
being (as they were) dismayed at this disgrace they reckoned to be 
no less ashamed at such an ignominy after they were dead than now 
to be made to blush while still alive." [127] 

Another marvel of the ancient world which might well 
have been included as an eighth wonder was the Labyrinth. 
The description is just as involved as the subject would seem 
to require: 

"We can truly say that these Labyrinths are the most monstrous 
works ever devised by the hand of man. They are not fabulous, as 
peradventure it might be supposed; for one of them remains to this 
day in the jurisdiction of Heracleopolites which was the first ever 
made, 3,600 years ago, by a king named Petesuccas, or as some 
think, Tithoes. Herodotus 1 says it was the work of many kings, one 
after another, and that Psammetichus was the last that put his hand 
to it and made an end thereof. The reason that moved these princes 
to make this Labyrinth is not resolved by writers, but diverse 
causes are alleged by them. The greater part are of opinion that it 
was an edifice dedicated expressly to the Sun, which in my opinion 
comes nearest to the truth. Certainly there is no doubt that Dae- 

1 This Labyrinth (of Lake Moeris) Herodotus said he had himself visited and 
found that it exceeded all the walls and great works of the Greeks put together for 
labour or expense. 

Q 225 


dalus took this for the model of the Labyrinth he made in Crete; 
though he expressed not above the hundredth part of it, choosing 
only that corner of the Labyrinth which contains a number of ways 
and passages, meeting and encountering one another, winding and 
turning in and out every way, after so intricate manner and so in- 
explicable that, when a man is once in, he cannot possibly get out 
again. Nor must we think that these turnings and returnings were 
after the manner of mazes which are drawn upon the pavement and 
the plain floor of a field, such as we commonly see making sport 
and pastime among boys, that is to say, a narrow promenade which 
may comprehend many miles; but here were many doors contrived, 
which might trouble and confound the memory, for seeing such 
variety of entries, alleys, and ways, some crossed and encountered, 
others flanked on either hand, a man wandered still and knew not 
whether he went forward or backward, nor in truth where he was. 
This Labyrinth in Crete is counted the second to that of Egypt. 
The third is in the Isle of Lemnos. The fourth is in Italy; and all 
were made of polished stone, and vaulted overhead with arches. 

To describe the site and plot, to unfold the architecture of the 
whole, and to rehearse every particular is not possible; for the build- 
ing is divided into sixteen regions or quarters, according to the 
sixteen several governments in Egypt (which they call Nomes) and 
within each are vast and stately palaces which bear the names of the 
said jurisdiction. Also within the precinct are the temples of all the 
Egyptian gods, and fifteen little chapels or shrines, each enclosing 
a Nemesis, to which goddess they are all dedicated: to say nothing 
of many Pyramids forty ells in height apiece, every one of them 
having six walls at the foot; so that before a man comes to the 
Labyrinth which is so intricate and inexplicable, and in which (as 
I said before) he is sure to lose himself, he is sure to be weary and 
tired out, for he has still to pass over certain lofts, galleries and 
garrets, all of them so high that he must climb stairs of ninety steps 
apiece ere he can land at them. Within these are a number of 
columns and statues, all of porphyry or red marble, a world of 
images and statues representing gods as well as men, besides an 
infinite number of other statues portrayed in monstrous and ugly 

"What shall I say of other rooms and lodgings which are framed 
and situated in such a manner that no sooner are the doors and gates 
opened which lead to them than a man hears fearful cracks of terrible 



thunder? Furthermore, the passages from place to place are as dark 
as pitch, so that there is no going through them without fire light: 
and still we are short of the Labyrinth, for without the main wall 
there are two other mighty buildings they call Ptera (wings); and 
when you have passed them, you meet with more shrowds under 
the ground, like caves and countermines vaulted overhead, and as 
dark as dungeons. 

"The Labyrinth in Lemnos was similar, only more admirable in 
this respect, that it had a hundred and forty columns of marble 
more than die other, all wrought round by the turner's craft with 
such dexterity that a child could wield the wheel that turned them, 
the pins and poles by which they hung were so nicely poised. 

"It is proper that I should write something also of our Labyrinth 
here in Italy, which Porsena K. of Tuscany caused to be made for 
his own sepulchre; and the rather, that you should know that vain 
as foreign kings were in expenses, our princes in Italy surpassed 
them in vanity. As there are so many tales and fables of it that are 
incredible, I shall quote the words of my author M. Varro. King 
Porseus (quoth he) was interred under die city Clusinum in Tus- 
cany, in the very place he had left a sumptuous monument or tomb 
built of square stone. Within the base or foot he made a Labyrinth 
so intricate, that if a man had entered without a bottom or clue of 
thread in his hand, and leaving the one end thereof fastened to the 
entry or door, it was impossible for him to find the way out again. 
Upon this quadrant stood five Pyramids or steeples, four at the 
corners, and one in the midst. These grew sharp spires toward the 
top, so contrived that they all met in one great roundle of brass 
which covered them all in manner of a cap, the same rising up in the 
midst with a crest most stately. From this cover there hung round 
about by little chains a number of bells or cymbals, which, shaken 
with the wind, made a jangling noise that might be heard a great way 
off, very much like the ring of bells which was devised in times past 
over the temple of Jupiter at Dodona. And yet we are not come to 
an end of this building mounted aloft in the air; for this cover over- 
head served but for a foundation of four other Pyramids, and every 
one of them rose a hundred foot high above the other work. Upon 
the tops of them was still one terrace more to sustain five Pyramids, 
and these shot up to such a monstrous height that Varro was 
ashamed to report it. If we give credit to the tales that are current 
in Tuscany it was equal to the whole building underneath. Oh the 



outrageous madness of a foolish prince, seeking thus in a vain- 
glorious mind to be immortalised by a superfluous expense which 
could bring no good to any creature, and actually weakened the 
state of his kingdom! And when all was done, the artificer that 
enterprised and finished the work repeated the greater part of the 
praise and glory!" [128] 

Of the famous Seven Wonders of the "World the first was the 
Temple of Diana at Ephesus, familiar for the riot stirred up 
against St. Paul by the image-makers who feared for the wel- 
fare of their industry. One remarkable feature of this temple 
was that it was built not on, a rock, but on a marsh, to avoid 
the shock of earthquakes. The first course was of charcoal 
well rammed, in the manner of a pavement, and on this was 
laid a bed of wool-packs. The temple was 425 by 220 feet at 
the base and had 127 pillars, made by as many kings, all 
curiously wrought and engraved. 

"Chersiphron, the famous architect, was the chief designer or 
master of the works and he undertook (after the frame was made) 
the rearing of them. The greatest wonder of all was this, how those 
huge chapters of pillars together with their friezes and architraves, 
after being raised so high, should be fitted to the sockets of their 
shafts. But, so it is said, he compassed this enterprise and brought 
it to effect by means of bags or sacks filled with sand. For of these 
he made a soft bed, as it were, raised above the head of the pillars, 
upon which bed rested the chapters; and as he emptied the nether- 
most, the chapters settled downward little by little and so at his 
pleasure he could place them where they should stand. But the 
greatest difficulty was with the frontispiece and main lintel-tree 
which lay over the jambs or cheeks of the great door of the temple; 
for it was so huge and mighty that it could not be brought to lie 
level with the jambs which formed its bed. At this Chersiphron was 
much perplexed in his mind and so weary of his life that he pur- 
posed to make away with himself. But as he lay in bed and fell 
asleep wearied out with these dumpish and desperate cogitations, 
the goddess Diana (in whose honour this temple was framed and 
now at the point to be reared) appeared to him, willing him to be 
of good cheer, and to resolve to live still, assuring him that she 
herself had laid the stone of the frontispiece and couched it 



accordingly. This indeed appeared true on the morrow morning, 
for it seemed that the very weight of it had caused it to settle into 
its place and make a joint as Chersiphron would have wished it." 


Another interesting point is the wood used in the construc- 
tion of the temple; and especially with regard to the statue of 
the Goddess Diana, which was said to have been made of 
ebony. This may throw some light on a remark of Pliny that 
some of the gods had black faces. 

"It is commonly thought that Box, Ebony, Cypress and Cedar 
wood are everlasting and will never be done. A proof was to be 
seen in that famous temple of Diana in Ephesus, for all Asia lent a 
helping hand to that work, which they brought to an end and 
finished in four years and not before. The beams, rafters and spars 
that went to the making of the roof were of Cedar. As to the statue 
of the goddess Diana it is not so certainly known of what wood it 
was. All the writers report that it was of Ebony, except Mutianus, 
thrice Consul of Rome, and one of the last to have seen it; he 
affirms that it was made of Vine wood and that although the temple 
was ruined and rebuilt no less than seven times, yet the image was 
unchanged. He says, moreover, that Canetias chose that wood for 
the best and even mentions the workman who cut and carved it, 
which makes me marvel, considering that by his own account this 
image was of greater antiquity than that of Lady Minerva, much 
more than of Prince Bacchus. He adds that this statue was em- 
balmed within with precious oil of Spikenard which was distilled 
into it at many holes. By means of this medicinable liquor the wood 
was nourished and the joints held close and fast together. As to 
the leaves of the doors belonging to this temple they were, he says, 
of Cypress wood, and they continue still fresh and new to the eye 
notwithstanding it is well near four hundred years since they were 
made. This, by the way, is to be noted that these doors stood four 
years glued in the clave (key). And verily this wood was chosen 
for that purpose because among other properties the Cypress alone 
has this gift, to look always shining and polished and never lose 
its gloss and beauty." t 1 ^! 

The Mausoleum, or tomb of Mausolus, King of Caria, was 
erected by his widow Artemisia at Halicarnassus, a monument 



63 feet long from North to South and rather less in width, 
with a circuit of 411 feet. It was 25 cubits high with 36 columns 
surrounding it. Four distinguished sculptors, including 
Scopas, each took charge of one side. 

"There was a fifth workman also who took part; for above the 
side wall or wing of the tomb there was a Pyramid erected, which 
from the battlements of the wall was carried to the height of the 
building below. It grew smaller as the work rose higher, and from 
that height at every step (there were four-and-twenty in all) was 
narrowed and taken in, until at last it ended in a pointed broch. On 
the top there is pitched a coach with four horses wrought curiously 
in marble, and this was the work of Pythis for his part. So that 
reckoning this chariot with the sharp spire, the Pyramid under it 
unto the battlements, and the body of the sepulchre founded upon 
the firm ground, the whole work arose to an hundred and forty foot 
in height." [131] 

The Colossus of Rhodes was a giant image of the Sun in 
bronze, made by Chares of Lyndus, 75 cubits high. 

"Well 3 mighty image as it was it did not stand on end more than 
sixty-six years, for in an earthquake that then happened it was over 
thrown. Lying as it does on the ground it is a wonderful and prodi- 
gious thing to view, for first and foremost the thumbs of the hand 
and great toes of the foot are so big that few men clasp them in 
their arms. The fingers and toes are bigger than the most part of 
other whole statues and images and where any of the members or 
limbs were broken with the fall, a man seeing them would say they 
were broad holes and huge caves in the ground, for within these 
fractures and breaches you will see monstrous big stones which the 
workman at the first rearing and setting of it had couched within 
to strengthen the colossus, so that standing firm and upright it 
might check the violence of wind and weather. Twelve years (they 
say) Chares was in making of it before he could fully finish it, and 
the bare workmanship cost 300 talents. There are other images of 
the nature of colosses in the same city of Rhodes to the number of 
one hundred, less indeed than the Colossus of the Sun, but for big- 
ness sufficient to give a name to the place and ennoble it wherever 
it should stand." [*3 2 ] 

The fragments remained on the ground for nine hundred 



years because they were held to be sacred. Finally they were 
removed by Muavius, said to have been a Mahometan caliph, 
for the value of the brass; and, as one of the inevitable coinci- 
dences of history, it was said that it needed exactly the number 
of camels to complete the removal as the number of the years 
during which the statue had remained in ruins. 

From all accounts the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were 
roof gardens on a colossal scale, built on high arches and 
watered from the Euphrates. They seem to have had a con- 
nection with a vast sacrificial mound, on the top of which the 
priests as they sacrificed would be visible to the multitude a 
"high place" planted with groves of trees. Voltaire pictured 
these gardens as forests of palm and trees laden with oranges, 
lemons, cloves, and cinnamon raised high above the ground, 
growing in twelve feet of eajrth which rested on thick sheets of 
lead, with thousands of cascades and fountains completing a 
design not unlike that of Versailles. Voltaire was romancing; 
but there was prevalent in the East a taste for remarkable and 
lofty park-like gardens, raised artificially. The Green Mount 
of Kublai Khan with a lake in the place where the earth had 
been excavated might be taken as an example. 

The statue of Zeus at Olympia, made by Phidias of ivory 
and gold, was said to represent the god, according to Homer's 
description, in every detail and therefore to express in the 
highest possible degree the embodiment of Greek religious 
feeling both in beauty -and majesty. Cicero held it to be the 
most perfect of all statues and other writers testified to the 
emotion created by it in the hearts of those who stood and 
gazed at this truly god-like image. 

Lastly, we come to the Pyramids and obelisks of Egypt 
which Pliny must have seen when he visited the country. 
Apparently he did not recognise the real motive of the pyra- 
mids and ascribed them merely to the foolish vainglory of 
the kings; for he says they so abounded in wealth that they 
did not know what to do with their money except to spend it 
in such idle and needless vanities. The main motive he believes 
to have been a remedy for unemployment and at the same time 



a means of avoiding the inconvenience of leaving too much 
treasure to the heirs, which might only tempt them to treason- 
able practices. 3665000 men were kept at work for twenty years 
over the largest of the pyramids; and three of them took 78 
years and 4 months in the making. 1,800 talents alone were 
laid out in radishes, garlic and onions for the workers during 
the time of building. 

"And yet with all these huge monuments, there remain no 
signs of any houses built, no appearance of frames and engines 
requisite for such monstrous buildings. There is nothing to be 
seen far and near except fair sand and small red gravel, much like 
Lentil seed. A man seeing everything so clean and even would 
wonder how they came there. But the greatest difficulty and 
marvel is this: what means were used to carry so high as well as 
such mighty masses of hewn squared stone, as the filling, rubbish 
and mortar that went there? Some say that mounts of salt and nitre 
were heaped up together higher and higher as the work arose and 
was brought up; when it was finished, these mounts were demolished 
and washed away by the inundation of the River Nile. Others 
think that there were bridges reared with bricks made of clay, which 
after the work was brought to an end were employed in building 
private houses. For they hold that the Nile, lying at such a low 
level even when it is at its highest, could never reach to wash away 
the heaps and mounds aforesaid. 

"Within the greatest Pyramid there is a pit 86 cubits deep, and 
thither (some think) the river was let in. The method of measuring 
the height of these Pyramids was invented by Thales of Miletus; 
namely, by taking the length of the shadow when it is equal in 
length to the body that casts it." [133] 

The obelisks are described as red granite "beams" conse- 
crated to the sun. The Egyptian name implied the resemblance 
to sunbeams. The rivalry of the Kings led to a severe competi- 
tion in, the matter of the dimensions of these imposing land- 
marks. Rameses appears to have made a final and desperate 
effort to eclipse all previous records: 

"He pitched on end another Obelisk, 129 cubits in height, but of 
prodigious thickness, the sides being no less than eleven cubits in 



breadth. It is said that Rameses kept twenty thousand men em- 
ployed on this Obelisk and that the king himself, when it was 
about to be reared on end, fearing that the engines devised to raise 
it, and keep the head steady between heaven and earth, might fail 
and not be able to bear that monstrous weight, caused his own son 
to be bound to the top of it in order that the safety of the young 
prince might induce them to be more heedful to preserve the stone. 
Indeed, this Obelisk was so admirable a piece of work that when 
King Cambyses took the city where it stood by assault, and put it 
to the fire and sword, having burnt everything as far as the founda- 
tion and underpinning of the Obelisk, he commanded expressly 
to quench the fire, and in a kind of reverence unto a mass and pile 
of stone spared it." [134] 

A difficulty was found in transporting the largest of these 
obelisks to Rome, especially between the banks of the River 
Tiber. Augustus set one of them in the Circus, 125 feet 9 inches 
high, and another 9 feet shorter, in Mars field. On these, it was 
said, all the philosophy and religion of the Egyptians was en- 
graved, "containing the whole interpretation of Nature". An 
obelisk that was used as a sundial to mark the hour of noon, for 
some unknown reason got out of truth, and Pliny suggests three 
possible explanations for the error. It might have been due to 
an earthquake or subsidence in the ground; or possibly the 
more remote contingency of the earth having moved from 
the true centre of the universe; and the third and most daring 
speculation was that the universe itself might have shifted, 
which gives us a hint of that very modern and complicated 
theory, an expanding universe. 


Of the Universe 

THE second book of the Natural History contains "the dis- 
course of the World of celestial impressions and meteors" 
in other words, a complete treatise on astronomy. On such a 
vast subject we naturally glance first of all at Pliny's authorities 
and notice that the list of his own countrymen is undistin- 
guished except for the indispensable Varro, unless we have 
underrated the ability of the Emperor Tiberius, whose reputa- 
tion as an astronomer has been lost to posterity. 

The Greek list is naturally a formidable one. To take a 
few names at random there are Plato, Hipparchus, the Pytha- 
goreans, Anaximander, Euclid, Democritus, Archimedes, 
Eratosthenes, Herodotus, Aristotle, Ctesias. 

This list could scarely claim to be comprehensive; but it 
conveys a sufficient variety of ideas concerning the constitu- 
tion of the universe to render Pliny's explanations intelligible. 
"We might with advantage examine the opinions of a few of the 
authorities cited and notice what use is made of them. 

Anaximander, for instance, was a disciple of Thales, one of 
the earliest of the Greek astronomers. He considered the 
origin of everything to be a kind of primitive matter, which 
we could only perceive by means of our senses when it was 
resolved into fire, water and other elements. Heat and cold 
were opposites, which brought about the consistency of the 
heavenly bodies. Lightning and thunder occurred when fire 
attempted to escape through the air contained in the clouds 
an idea not unlike a very recent theory that the action of cosmic 
rays is a contributing cause of thunderstorms. 



He believed that all the heavenly bodies were of a cylindrical 
shape, flat on both sides like a lozenge, not round a peculiarity 
that enabled them to float. The idea of the rotation of these 
bodies was not yet evolved, as we may judge from the Egypt- 
ians who regarded the stars and planets as sailing in a vast 
armada. The earth being of this convenient shape could float 
easily on a fluid which contained the germ of things a great 
breeding ground on the same lines as the ocean. He also made 
a shrewd guess very close to the evolutionary theory, that the 
first creatures were produced in moisture and were covered 
with a spiny integument a suggestion that has a curious and 
relevant application to the armour-plated covering of pre- 
historic fishes. In course of time, he added, they reached dry 
land as animals again anticipating a sound evolutionary pro- 
cess. He even went so far as to hazard the suspicion that man 
himself originally resembled a fish. 

With the Pythagoreans we touch on more metaphysical 
ground. Number was the essence of all things, and from this 
was derived the idea of the harmonious action of the heavenly 
bodies. Pythagoras was the first to declare the earth to be a 
sphere a sphere for logical reasons, because it was the most 
beautiful and harmonious of all solid figures. The universe 
was, in fact, living and intelligent as well as spherical. The 
school which Pythagoras founded went a step further and 
recognised that the earth was not central and immovable, but 
a highly important admission behaved in the same way as 
the planets, being constantly in motion, and rotating. Thus 
there was a daily rotation of sun, moon and planets from east 
to west recognised, while the fixed stars moved much more 

To this harmonious movement was assigned a harmony in 
sound a remarkable conception based on the idea that the 
universe sings like an orchestra while the planets, sun and moon 
all revolve to their particular notes and rhythm. In this sense 
the universe was an instrument of God, tuned to the scale of 
the Heptacord Music. Numbers thus formed the highest 
expression in the universe. The divine melody, however, of the 

2 35 


celestial choir was inaudible to mortal ears, too gross to rise to 
these exalted heights. 

Democritus contributed an alternative theory of the uni- 
verse, which was frankly materialistic. He thus differed from 
his predecessors who believed in one great organising, 
omniscient force, grouping the elements of matter according 
to their affinities. He was the first of the Atomists, so-called 
because they advanced the doctrine that atoms or "bodies" 
falling into the void came together and so formed worlds. 
For these theories Democritus incurred the deep displeasure 
of mediaeval theologians, and was consigned on this account 
by Dante to a suitable place in hell 

Finally we come to Aristotle, the greatest influence of all, 
revered by Pliny as a master whose word was well nigh in- 
fallible. He held that of the four elements (earth, fire, water 
and air) earth was the heaviest and therefore tended to go 
downwards, while fire ascended, and air and water hovered 
somewhere between. 

But beside these material elements there was a fifth of an 
infinite and divine nature the aether filling the uppermost 
space of all. The stars were formed of aether. At a lower level 
lay the terrestrial elements, between the moon and the earth, 
always striving with one another and creating continual 

One other name demands attention, that of Eratosthenes, 
the learned librarian of Alexandria who came later, about 
250 B.C. He guessed with an almost uncanny instinct pos- 
sibly an inference from astronomical observations that a ship 
sailing westward from Spain along the same latitude would 
ultimately arrive at India. 

Euclid and Archimedes also belonged to the Alexandrian 
school of the same period. As an inventor of machinery, 
Archimedes is famous for his startling boast: "Give me but a 
place to stand on and I will move the earth." 

We may now be in a position to consider Pliny's own 
attitude to the earth and the universe, and to notice how he 
attempts to reconcile previous conflicting ideas. He agrees 



that the earth is more or less round the perfect shape for a 
suspended body in space but the difficulty presents itself as 
to what happens to the inhabitants on the lower side. Why did 
they not fall off, while we managed to keep our footing "on the 
top of the world"? Pliny very aptly remarks that those dwell- 
ing in the antipodes might be equally perplexed to account for 
the reason why we in our turn keep our footing. A modern 
rhyme suitably states the problem: 

"Whatever should we do, 
If underfoot were blue. 
And all the world were upside down, 
And overhead were green and brown?*' 

But it is better for Pliny to state the problem in his own 

"The first and principal thing that oflers itself to be considered 
is the figure of the Earth, in which by a general consent we all 
agree. For we speak of the round ball of the earth and confess that 
it is a globe enclosed within two poles. Yet the form is not of a 
perfect and absolute roundel, considering such a great height of 
hills and such plains of downs. But if the compass were taken by 
lines, the ends of those lines would meet exactly in circuit and prove 
the figure of a just circle. The heaven bends and inclines toward 
the centre, but the earth goes from the centre, while the world with 
continual volubility and turning about drives the huge and exces- 
sive globe into the form of a round ball. 

"There is much ado and great debate between learned men and 
contrariwise between those of the lewd and ignorant multitude, for 
they hold that men are spread over all parts of the earth and stand 
one against another, foot to foot, so that the Zenith or point of the 
Heavens is even and alike unto all; in whatever part they are they 
tread after the same manner on the middle of the earth. But the 
common sort ask the question, How it happens that the people 
opposite just against us do not fall off into Heaven? As if there 
were not a question also ready whether those on the opposite side 
should marvel why we fall not down. Now there is a reason, carry- 
ing a probability even to the multitude, that on an uneven and un- 
equal globe of the Earth, with many ascents and degrees (as if the 
figure resembled a Pineapple) it may be well enough inhabited all 



over in every place. But what good does all this do, when another 
wonder as great as it arises, namely, that the globe itself hangs and 
yet does not fall together with us? As if the power of that Spirit 
especially which is enclosed in the World were doubted: or that 
anything could fall, especially when Nature is repugnant thereto 
and affords no place whither to fall." 1 [135] 

In the absence of the understanding of the Law of Gravity, 
Pliny falls back on, the plea that it would be repugnant to the 
workmanlike instinct of Nature, that great and infallible power, 
if any untoward disaster were to happen. That Nature had 
kindly provided us with stability and a firm balance was all 
that he was able to say positively. There is even a hint that 
the uneven surface of the earth, especially when the heights 
of the mountains are taken into account, provide us with a 
kind of foothold. If the surface were as smooth as glass, who 
could deny that we too might be liable to slip off into space? 

In other respects, the ancient idea of the universe is clear 
enough. It is an elaboration of Isaiah's conception of "the 
heavens stretched out as a curtain and a tent to dwell in". 2 The 
roof of the "tent" is imprinted with the portraits of living 
creatures, the signs of the Zodiac a Bear or a Bull, and so on. 
This is Pliny's view. He says that the surface of the vault is 
encrusted with stars, which gives a rough surface "not 
smooth and slick all over, polished as we see in birds' eggs". 
It was also from this canopy that the seeds of all things living 

1 One would imagine that Mandeville was thinking of this passage when he wrote 
the following very involved statement: "But how it seemeth to simple men unlearned, 
that men may not go under the earth, and also that men should fall towards die 
heaven from under. But that may not be, upon less than we may fall toward heaven 
from the earth where we be. For from what part of the earth that men dwell, either 
above or beneath, it seemeth always to them that dwell that they go more right than 
any other folk. And right as it seemeth to us that they be under us, right so it seemeth 
to them that we be under them. For if a man might fall from the earth unto the 
firmament, by greater reason the earth and the sea that be so great and so heavy 
should fall to the firmament: but that may not be, and therefore saith our Lord God, 
Nontimeas me> qui suspendi terram ex mhilo?" This quotation shows how complex 
and inexplicable seemed a problem that presents so little difficulty to us ever since 
the fall of an apple inspired Sir Isaac Newton with a tenable theory. 

2 Another example of the connection between religious imagery and astronomical 
science occurs in Revelations, where four angels stood "on the four corners of the 
earth, holding the four winds of the earth" signifying that the earth was both flat 
and square, while the corners represented the outermost boundaries. 



fell, principally into that great breeding ground, the ocean. 
Thus we see, according to Pliny, and also according to 
Genesis, the theory of special creation stated, that in the world 
are created all manner of strange shapes derived from the 
heavens above. 

In the Merchant of Venice there is the same idea of the 
heavens incrusted with stars: 

"Sit Jessica. Look, how the floor of heaven 
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold: 
There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st 
But in his motion like an angel sings. 
Still quivering to the young-eyed cherubims, 
Such harmony is in immortal souls; 
But whilst the muddy vesture of decay 
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it." 

Here is the well-known Pythagorean theory restated of the 
'music of the spheres". 1 The scale was worked out in different 
series of tones by different scientists, the scale most favoured 
by Pliny being that which made the interval between the earth 
and the sun a fifth, with one tone between the earth and the 
moon, which recorded the lowest of all. 

"The evidence of our eyesight approves that the form of heaven 
is round, in the fashion of an absolute and perfect globe, because 
whichever way you look, it seems to bend downward showing a 
just Hemisphere. The ordinary rising and setting of the sun also 
has left it clear that the World thus framed turns round about in a 
continual and incessant circuit in the space of four-and-twenty 
hours. Now I cannot so easily resolve and pronounce whether the 
sound of so huge a frame (because the heaven is in height infinite), 
while it is being whirled about and never rests in that revolution, 
cannot be heard with our ears. No more can I vouch for the singing 
of the stars as they are driven about and roll with all their spheres: 
or determine that the heaven, as it moves, represents indeed a 

1 Music as an essential part of devotion is seen to be an idea of long-standing. In 
the music of the spheres was embodied the highest expression of art, and Plato 
regarded the harmony of sound as in itself a philosophy. This accounts for the 
linking up of religious ceremony with the loftiest musical expression. 



pleasant and incredibly sweet harmony both day and night, although 
to us who are within it seems to pass in silence/' 1 [136] 

Between earth and heaven, according to the ancient plan, 
hung the seven planets. Of these the sun was the greatest, the 
ruler not only of the stars but of heaven itself. The sun was 
the soul of the whole world, giving light, alternately hiding 
and revealing the stars, ordering the seasons and clearing away 
the dark mists and cloudiness of men's minds. 

In Babylon the moon was a greater favourite than the sun, 
for the reason that it had a softer illumination and less damag- 
ing powers of heat. Pliny admits the moon's charm and 
attraction and mentions that Endymion was the first to fall a 
victim. Yet she is variable, always growing or else waning, 
bending "pointwise into tips of horns", at other times divided 
just in half, or shining full. She can be spotted and dark (the 
spots being the dregs of earth caught up among the vapours) 
or else exceeding bright. "Also she is very active in her course, 
sometimes below, sometimes aloft, mounted high in the North 
or cast down below in the South, up in the zenith or ready to 
touch the mountains/' 

Then there were the moon's eclipses, in which the recovery 
of the moon from the troubles that assailed her was assisted 
by a din of trumpets and a clattering of basins. 

"The first Roman that divulged the reason of the eclipses of the 
Sun and Moon was Sulpitius Gallus who was afterwards Consul. 
But at that time, being a Colonel he was brought out by the General 
the day before King Perseus was vanquished by Paulus into open 
audience before the whole host to foretell the eclipse which would 
happen the next morning. Whereby he delivered the army from all 
pensiveness and fear which might have troubled them in the time of 

1 This sense of a whirling motion, accompanied, as it might be, by an inaudible 
music, has been well expressed in Far from the Madding Crowd: 

"To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight, the roll of the 
world eastward is almost a palpable movement. The sensation may be caused by 
the panoramic glide of the stars past earthly objects, which is perceptible in a few 
minutes of stillness. But whatever be its origin, the impression of riding along is 
vivid and abiding. After such a nocturnal reconnoitre it is hard to get back to earth 
and to believe that the consciousness of such majestic speeding is derived from a tiny 
human frame." 



battle; and within a while after he compiled also a book thereof. 
Among the Greeks, Thales Milesius was the first who found it 
out and did prognosticate and foreshadow the Sun's eclipse that 
happened in the lyoth year after the foundation of the city of Rome. 
After them Hipparchus compiled his Ephemerides, containing the 
courses and aspects of both these planets for six hundred years 
ensuing, no less assuredly than if he had been privy to Nature's 
counsels. These were doubtless great and excellent persons who 
above the reach of all capacity of mortal men found out the reason 
of the course of such mighty stars and divine powers. And whereas 
the silly mind of men was before set and to seek, fearing in these 
eclipses of the stars some great wrong and violence or death of the 
planets, he reassured them in that matter. As for the Moon, mortal 
men imagine that by magic sorcery and charms she is enchanted; 
they therefore help her in such a case when she is eclipsed by dis- 
sonant ringing of basins. In this fearful fit also of an eclipse Nicias, 
the General of the Athenians, feared to set sail with his fleet out of 
the haven, and so greatly endangered and distressed the state of his 
country." [137] 

The reference to Hipparchus is correctly stated, for not only 
did he predict eclipses but calculated the lunar month to within 
less than a second of the present accepted figures an amazing 
feat of precision. He also made a catalogue of 850 stars; and 
it was thanks to the positions of Sirius and other fixed stars 
recorded by him that Halley in 1718 was able to make his 
discovery that the fixed stars were not as fixed as had pre- 
viously been imagined. 

The reason given for the different colours of the planets is 
ingenious. The varying tones depended on their distance 
from the earth, since they took their colour from the particular 
atmosphere they happened to be in. Saturn was white and 
excessively cold, Mars red, hot and fiery, Jupiter clear and 
temperate. The comets were the most fearful atxd terrifying 
apparitions of all; some with bloody hairs, rough and shaggy 
all over with a kind of mane; others glittering like a sword, or 
swift as a spear or dart. At the battle of Salamis a comet 
appeared resembling a horn; and tragic events were generally 

R 241 


understood to be heralded by "stars with trains of fire, dews 
of blood, disasters in the sun". 

"Some of the comets move like wandering planets; others are 
fixed fast and stir not. All in manner are seen under the North star 
called Charl le maigne's wain: some in no certain part thereof, but 
mostly in that white, which has taken the name of the Milk circle. 
Aristotle says that many are seen together: a thing that no man but 
he, so far as I can learn, has found out Marry, boisterous winds and 
much heat of weather are foretold by them. A terrible one was 
seen of the people in Ethiopia and Egypt which the king who 
reigned in that age names Typhon. It resembled fire and was 
platted or twisted in manner of a wreath, grim and hideous to look 
on; and no more truly to be counted a star than a kind of knot of 

"A fearful star for the most part is this kind of Comet, and not 
easily expiated; as appeared by the late civil troubles when Octavius 
was Consul and also a second time by the intestine war of Pompey 
and Caesar. In our own days, about the time that Claudius Csesar 
was poisoned and left the Empire to Domitius Nero, there was 
another continually visible and always terrible. Men are of the 
opinion that it is material for prophecy to observe into what 
quarters it shoots, or what star's power and influence it receives; 
also what things it resembles and in what parts it shines and first 
arises. For if it is like flutes and hautboys it portends something to 
Musicians. It is respective to fine wits and learned men if it put 
forth a triangular or foursquare figure with even angles. And it is 
thought to presage, yea, and to sprinkle and put forth poison, if it 
be seen in the head of the Dragon, either North or South, 

"In only one place of the whole world, namely in a temple at 
Rome is a Comet worshipped and adored: even the one which was 
judged by Augustus Caesar of happy memory to be very lucky and 
fortunate to him 1 ; fo% when it began to appear, he gave attendance 
in person as overseer to the plays and games which he made to 
Venus Genetrix not long after the death of his father Caesar, in the 

1 Comets had also Been significant of imperial misfortune. Plutarch mentions 
the great comet "which shone very bright for seven nights after Caesar's death, and 
then disappeared, and the dimness of the sun, whose orb continued pale and dull for 
the whole of that year, never showing its ordinary radiance at its rising, and giving 
but a weak and feeble heat." Altogether this particular year proved most unseason- 
able; the air continued damp and the fruits never properly ripened to prove conclu- 
sively that Caesar's murder was unpleasing to the gods. 



college instituted and erected by him. In an inward joy to himself 
he interpreted that this Comet was made for him and that he himself 
was born in it. And verily, if we will confess a truth, it was a 
healthful, good and happy presage to the whole world." 1 [138] 

Of all the stars the Dog star was the most dreaded and 
sinister. His habit was to rise at the hottest time of the year 
and to bring disasters in his train. The sea then raged exces- 
sively, the wines in cellars were troubled, pools and standing 
waters moved strangely, and dogs were very apt to run rnad. 

The moon, on the other hai^d, had an extremely stimulating 
and excellent effect on the growth of living creatures, especially 
on oysters and other shell fish. Rats and mice showed by their 
anatomy the age of the moon; ants ceased working when the 
rnoon was changing. It was evident, too, that the supply of 
blood was regulated in some way by the moon; and in this 
connection it is of interest to note that it was a custom for 
centuries after to bleed a person strictly in accordance with the 
tides. Leaves of trees, and plants generally, were also strongly 
influenced. The Moon was the feminine plant, the Sun the 
masculine. The sun sucked up the humidity of the earth, and 
its fiery power in evaporating the sea had the effect of making 
it bitter and salt. "As the Sun is fed by the salt seas, so the 

1 Aristotle held that there were two kinds of comets one a kind of fiery vapour 
given off from the earth in the sublunary regions, the other derived from the exhala- 
tions from a planet or fixed star. In either case they were slowly burning bodies, 
generally associated with long periods of winds or droughts. He speaks of an occa- 
sion when a meteoric stone "fell from the air at Aegospotami and was caught up by 
a wind and hurled down in the course of a day; and at that time also a comet appeared 
from the beginning of the evening. Again, at the time of the great comet the winter 
was dry and arctic, and the tidal wave was caused by the clashing of contrary winds; 
for in the bay the north wind prevailed, while outside it a strong south wind blew. 
Further, during the archonship of Nicomachus at Athens a comet was seen for a few 
days in the neighbourhood of the equinoctial circle; it was at the time of this comet, 
which did not rise with the beginning of the evening that the great gale at Corinth 

The views about comets held by Aristotle held good up to the time of Newton. 
Seneca, however, argued against these very uncertain and volatile origins, pointing 
out that if comets were caused by the occurrence of winds and vapours, they 
would disappear very quickly, whereas the fact was otherwise; they generally 
lasted for months on end. What was more remarkable still, Seneca anticipated 
modern science by hazarding the shrewd conjecture that comets had orbits of their 
own. He confessed that he looked forward to the day when future astronomers 
might be trusted to prove the fact, which they have successfully done. 



Moon Is nourished by the fresh river waters" an idea that 
may have suggested the tastes of Jack Sprat and his wife, if we 
are to believe the deep esoteric meanings of nursery rhymes. 

The elements which in Pliny's view made up the physical 
creation were air, earth, water and fire. Here he follows Aris- 
totle. Lightnings proceeded from the three planets, Saturn, 
Jupiter and Mars. From them also came the kindred phenomena 
of earthquakes, assisted by the winds. Fire was the most re- 
markable of all the elements, in that it was capable of increasing 
indefinitely in volume from the feeblest spark. There were 
fires in the stars, in men's bodies, in some stones such as flints, 
also in certain woods when rubbed against one another. 
Strangest of all was the fire in the clouds from which lightning 
originated. The wonder, Pliny says, was that everything in 
the universe did not catch fire. "Surely it exceeds all miracles 
that one day should pass without all the world being set 
alight/' The flames seen about men's bodies were portents of 
great significance. Fire shone out of the head of Servius 
Tullius as he lay asleep when a child; and L. Martius was so 
inspired when he exhorted his soldiers to avenge the death of 
the two Scipios that his head was illuminated like a flaming 

But in spite of all these terrifying portents the earth has 
proved a true and great benefactress to us all 

"To her, for her singular benefits, we have given the reverent 
and worshipful name of Mother. For as the Heaven is the mother of 
God, even so is she of man. She it is that takes us when we are 
coming into the world, nourishes us when we are newborn; and 
when we are come abroad ever sustains and bears us up. At the 
last when we are rejected and forlorn of the world, she embraces 
us. Then, like a kind mother, she coveres us over in her bosom. 
She is sacred to us, inasmuch as she renders us sacred, even bearing 
our tombs, monuments and titles, continuing our name and extend- 
ing our memory, thereby to make recompense and weigh against 
the shortness of our age. We in our anger wish to be heavy unto 
our enemy, and yet she is heavy to none, as if we were ignorant 
that she alone is never angry with any man. She is bountiful, mild, 



tender over us and indulgent, ready at all times to attend and wait 
upon the good of mortal men. See what she breeds being forced ! 
Nay, what she yields of her own accord ! What odoriferous smells 
and pleasant savours! What wholesome juices and liquors, what 
soft things to content our feeling, what lovely colours she gives to 
please our eye, how faithfully and justly she repays with usury that 
which was lent and credited to her! 

"She brings forth medicinal herbs and is evermore in travail to 
be delivered of something or other that is good for man. Over and 
besides, for very pity of us she ordained and appointed some poisons 
that when we were weary of our life cursed famine should not con- 
sume and waste us with languishing and pining consumption and 
so procure our death; that high and steep rocks should not dash and 
crush our bodies in pieces; nor the overthwart and preposterous 
punishment by the halter wreath our necks and stop that vital breath 
which we seek to let out and be rid o Last of all, that we might not 
work our own death in the deep sea, and, being drowned, feed 
fishes and be buried in their bellies, nor yet that the edge and point 
of the sword cut and pierce our body and so put us to dolorous pain, 
she has in a pitiful regard and companion of us engendered that 
poison, by one gentle draught of which, going most easily down, 
we might forgo our life. 

"And what is Man's answer for all the blessings that the good 
Earth has bestowed upon him? Has it not been that Nature has been 
exploited to the utmost, dishonoured instead of receiving respect? 

"How many luxuries and how many insults does she not bear 
for us ! With iron tools, with wood, fire, stone, burdens of corn she 
is tormented every hour; and all this much more to content our 
pleasures and wanton delights than to serve us with natural food 
and necessary nourishment. What she abides in her outward skin 
might seem in some sort tolerable; but we, not satisfied therewith, 
pierce deeper and enter into her very bowels; we search into 
the veins of gold and silver; we mine and dig for copper and lead 
metals. To seek out gems and some little stones we strike pits deep 
within the ground. Thus we pluck the very heart-strings out of her, 
and all to wear on our finger one gem or precious stone, to fulfil our 
pleasure and desire. How many hands are worn with digging and 
delving that one joint of our finger may shine again! Surely, if 
there were any devils or infernal spirits beneath, ere this time these 
mines must have brought them up above ground. Marvel we then 



if she has brought forth some hurtful and noisome things? I well 
think that savage beasts ward and save her; and keep sacrilegious 
hands from doing her injury. Do we not dig amongst dragons and 
serpents, and together with veins of gold do we not handle the 
roots of poisoned and venomous herbs? But we find this goddess 
the better appeased and less discontented for all this misusage, 
because the end and issue of all this wealth tends to wickedness, 
to murder and wars; and her whom we drench with our blood we 
cover also with unburied bones, which, as if she reproved and 
reproached us for this rage and fury of ours, she herself covers in 
the end and hides close, even the wicked parts of mortal men." 


The system of the universe was, In the main, beneficent, 
although subject to the vicissitudes which come from such 
interferences as tempests, winds, rain, hail, frost, snow and 
thunderstorms. "When science was in its infancy and combined 
with philosophy, everything observed on the earth and in the 
air and sky was embraced by the word "meteor". Now meteor 
is reduced to the shooting stars roaming through space or 
survives in the title of the Meteorological Office, which issues 
the weather warnings. 

All that Pliny could do was to set out a series of pictures of 
the way in which the weather phenomena presented themselves 
to the imaginations of his predecessors. But he does not ignore 
the weather lore of the peasants and farmers. Many of these 
prognostications are still accepted as reliable forecasts: 

"Brute and dumb creatures presage and give warning what 
weather there will be. To begin with, the fishes of the Sea: the 
dolphins playing and disporting themselves in a calm water certainly 
fore-show wind coming from that coast whence they fetch these 
frisks and gambols. On the other hand, if they fling and dash water 
this way and that, the sea being rough and troubled, it is an in- 
fallible sign of a calm and of fair weather toward. The Cuttle 
launching itself and flying above the water; the Winkles sticking 
hard to the gravel; the Sea-urchins thrusting themselves into the 
mud are all signs of tempests near. The like may be said of Frogs 
when they cry more than their custom is; and of Searnews also 
when they gaggle in a morning extraordinarily; likewise the Cor- 



rnorants, Gulls, Mallards and Ducks, when they keep a-preening 
of their feathers with their bills, foreshow wind; and generally 
when you see other water-fowl gather and then combat one with 
another. Ravens crying as if they sobbed and hiccupped therewith, 
at the same time clapping themselves with their wings, do portend 
winds. Jackdaws, if it be late ere they return from abroad, fore- 
token cold and hard weather: so do the white-birds when they 
assemble and flock together, as also when land-fowl (and the crow 
especially) keep a-crying against the water, clapping their wings, 
washing also and bathing themselves. If the swallow fly low and so 
near the water that she flaps the same often with her wings, it is a 
sign of rain and foul weather. Similarly, if Geese hold on a con- 
tinual gaggling out of all order tintunably, or birds that nestle in 
trees seem to make many flights out but return quickly again to 
their nests, or the heron stands sad and moping on the sands, a man 
may make a certain guess. 

'The sheep and such small cattle, leaping and playing wantonly, 
do testify some change of weather; as also the dull and heavy oxen 
holding up their nose and muzzles, snuff and smell into the air, yea 
and keep a4icking against the hair. Also when you see the foul and 
filthy hogs rend, tear and fling about them bottles (bundles) of hay 
and yet care not for it when they have done; likewise if you perceive 
the ants lying close and idle against their nature, or earthworms 
come forth and appear, a man may be bold to foretell a change in 
the weather." [14] 

Winds were very difficult and uncertain things to account for. 
They were regarded as restless, wandering spirits at one 
time repressed, at another active, and at all times liable to be 
dangerous. They had strange habitations of their own, such 
as the bottom of the sea from which the South wind rose. 
Then there were caves and holes in the ground which bred 
winds continually. In Dalmatia a deep chasm was known into 
which anything thrown, however calm the day might be, 
would provoke a stormy tempest "like a wbirlpuff" (rather on 
the principle of a box filled with smoke which, when it is 
tapped, emits smoke rings through a hole). 1 The idea of the 

1 An illustration recently appeared in The Times of a great blowhole in the 
Nillarbor Plain in South Australia "through which the wind rushes like the sighing 
of a giant". It showed a handkerchief held over the opening in the ground being 
blown skyward by the force of the wind. 



winds being imprisoned and suddenly getting loose correspond 
almost exactly with the description in Martin Chu^lemt^ of 
"the boisterous rover hurrying away rejoicing, roaring over 
moor and meadow, hill and flat, until it got out to sea, where 
it met with other winds similarly disposed, and made a night 
of it". 

And Hotspur in Henry IV puts Pliny's theory still more 

"Oft the teeming earth 
Is with a kind of colic plncht and vext 
By the imprisoning of unruly wind 
Within her womb; which, for enlargement striving, 
Shakes the old beldam earth, and topples down 
Steeples and moss-grown towers." 

Milton, in Lyddas, puts the question, why Edward King was 
drowned and gets the following reply 

"And sage Hippotades their answer brings 
That not a blast was from his dungeons strayed." 

Each wind was known by its particular character. Homer, 
the earliest recognised scientific authority, only spoke of four. 
"Now", says Pliny, "every quarter of the world has two winds 
apiece." The chief of these were Boreas, the coldest, which 
blew from the North Pole and engendered snow and hail; 
Notus, the South Wind, hot and troublesome, especially when 
it was dry and apt to take away the appetite; Zephyrus the 
mild West wind; Kaikas the greedy North-east; and Eurus the 
uncertain South-east. 

Whirlwinds and waterspouts were sudden blasts, liable to 
do great damage. 

"When they come with a greater force, sway and violence, and 
burst withal and cleave a dry cloud asunder, they breed a storm 
which is named Typhon. But if the cleft or breach is not great, so 
that the wind is constrained to turn round, to roll and whirl in his 
descent, without fire (that is to say, lightning), it makes a whirlpuff 
or gust called Typhon. This takes with it a piece broken out of a 
congealed cold cloud, turning, winding and rolling it round and 
changes from place to place with a vehement and sudden whirling. 
This is the greatest danger and mischief that poor sailors have at 



sea, breaking not only their cross-sailyards but also writhing and 
bursting in pieces the very ships; and yet a small matter is the 
remedy for it, namely, the casting of vinegar out against it as it 
comes, which is of a nature most cold." [141] 

The usual tradition about vinegar was that it was able to 
extinguish fire. This is in accordance with its reputation for 
coldness. One would have expected oil to be mentioned 
instead of vinegar, especially as Pliny tells us that pearl divers 
used oil in rough weather to calm a heavy sea. 

Thunder and lightning gave rise to a number of different 
theories. The most ingenious was a suggestion taken, from 
the analogy of a red-hot iron as it makes a hissing noise when 
thrust into water. Storms were bred when a cloud was cloven 
in two, or burst asunder. Then sometimes a thunderbolt 
would fly out. The sound of thunder was due to the blows and 
thumps given by the fires beating on the clouds. These re- 
peated blows caused "the fiery chinks and rifts of those clouds 
immediately to glitter and shine. Likewise it may be that the 
same wind or spirit is set on fire by fretting and rubbing as it 
passes violently headlong down. It may also be stricken by the 
conflict of two clouds, as if two stones hit one against another; 
and so the leames and flashes sparkle forth". The guess as to the 
two clouds clashing is not as far from the truth as it might seem. 

When we say that it is "raining cats and dogs", we may be 
unaware that the phrase expresses some strange and ancient 
ideas about rainfalls in general. "I will rain bread from heaven" 
was the announcement of the coming of manna in the wilder- 
ness. Pliny tells us that it had been known to rain flesh (frogs 
may have been meant) which the birds eagerly welcomed. 
Fishes, too, fell; 1 and it rained milk and blood when Acilius 
and Porcius were consuls; and iron when Crassus was slain 
by the Parthians, on which occasions the soothsayers very 

1 Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary, May 23, 1661 "At table I had very good 
discourse with Mr. Ashmole, wherein he did assure me that frogs and many insects 
do often fall from the sky, ready formed." Showers of fishes and frogs have been 
known to have been caused by the updraught of a whirlwind; also the appearance 
of a shower of blood can be due to wind-borne pollen of certain red fungoid organ- 



wisely warned the people to take cover. Rainfalls of wool 
also of tiles and bricks were curious variations of the gifts 
which the heavens bestowed. 

Hail was easier to account for as rain congealed into an ice, 
which had a solid and permanent counterpart in the rock- 
crystal found on the tops of mountains. Snow was hail in a 
softer state; and frost was dew frozen. 

Meteorites dropped out of the sun. One fell in Achaia in 
the daytime. 

"The stone is showed at this day as big as a wain load, carrying 
a burnt and dusty colour. At the same time a comet, or blazing 
star, also burnt in the night: which, if any man believe was predicted 
must also confess that this divinity or foretelling of Anaxagoras was 
more miraculous and wonderful than the thing itself. And then 
farewell to the knowledge of Nature's works and welcome con- 
fusion of all if we should believe that either the Sun were a stone or 
that a stone were ever in it. But that stones often do fall down no 
man will make any doubt. In the public place of Exercise in Abydos 
there is one preserved and held in great reverence. It is but of a 
mean and small quantity, yet it is the same which Anaxagoras (by 
report) predicted should fall in the midst of the earth/* [*4^] 

Rainbows were not in any way alarming, nor did they pre- 
dict with certainty either fine or rainy weather. They always 
occurred opposite the sun in the form of a semicircle and were 
caused by sunbeams striking on a hollow cloud and being 
beaten back once more against the sun. In this way the wonder- 
ful variety of colours appeared, caused by the mixture of 
clouds, air and fiery light all mingled together. 

Lastly, there were miraculous appearances in the sky, 
attested by witnesses, which remind us of instances in history 
when in the stress of battle visions appeared. The Angels of 
Mons are still within our recollection. 

"In the time of the Cimbrian wars we have been told that Armour 
was heard to rustle and the Trumpet to sound out of Heaven. And 
this happened very often both before and after those wars. But in 
the third consulship of Marius the Amerines and Tudertes saw men 
in arms in the sky rushing and running one against another from 
the East and West, and those of the West discomfited/" [143] 


Of Places and Peoples 

WE have seen Herodotus cited as an authority on astronomy. 
On that subject he may not have been of great value, but on 
anthropology and geography he was indispensable. His his- 
tory, from which Pliny quoted freely, constituted the very 
foundation of the knowledge accepted by all ancient writers. 
Next to Homer, whose word on any scientific matter was law, 
he invested the world with wonder, the freshness of outlook 
inseparable from hearing from the lips of travellers from over- 
seas experiences that were entirely new. What did it matter 
if some of these were a little over-stated? 

By good fortune we gain a very fair idea of the world, as Pliny 
imagined it, from a map made by a contemporary, Pomponius 
Mela. This shows the surface of the earth divided into five 
zones, of which the central round the Equator was tropical, 
too hot for human habitation, and those at the opposite 
extremes too cold. This left the two temperate zones in the 
middle alone fit for human occupation; one of them being the 
portion of the earth with which the ancients were acquainted, 
the other on the opposite side of the globe involving complica- 
tions about residence in the neighbourhood of the Antipodes 
which have already been noticed. 

Babylon occupies approximately the centre of the habitable 
globe, with the Mediterranean dividing Africa and Ethiopia 
from Europe. Britain and the country of the Hyperboreans 
are to be seen lying well away to the North. In tne East is a 
vast and largely mythical continent divided by a great moun- 
tain range (the Himalayas) to the soutft of which is India, with 
Scythia and Seres (China) away to the North. The Caspian 



cuts into the outline of the world on the North in the same way 
as the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea cut into the coast-line on 
the South, the space between being filled by Media, Persia 
and Parthia. By this arrangement the design gains consider- 
ably in balance and symmetry, and presents the idea of the 
world as a kind of mushroom-shaped island with its roots well 
bedded in the depths of the surrounding ocean. 

Pliny accepts the estimate of Artemidorus as to the length 
of the surface of the earth from East to West 8778 miles, 
with a breadth of 5462 miles measurements of singular pre- 
cision. The whole area was divided into three parts or con- 
tinents Europe, Asia and Africa and the strange variety of 
peoples that existed in the world was bewildering. It was a 
diversity of type, as pictured by the ancients, likely to kindle 
the imagination and open up an endless field for investigation, 

"The power and majesty of Nature in every particular action of 
hers seems incredible; for to say nothing of the painted peacock's 
feathers, of the sundry spots of tigers and panthers, of the variable 
colours and marks of so many creatures besides, let us come to one 
point only, the variety of man's speech, so many tongues and 
languages in the world that one stranger to another seems scarcely 
to be a man at all. Then come to view the variety that appears in 
our face and visage, although there are not more than ten parts in 
it; see how among so many thousands you will not find two per- 
sons who are not distinct in countenance, a thing that no artist or 
painter (be he ever so cunning a craftsman) can perform. And yet 
I must warn the readers of this history of mine that I will not pawn 
my credit for many things I shall deliver in it, nor bind them to 
believe all I write regarding strange and foreign nations. I will 
rather refer them to my authors whom they may believe if they list. 
Only let them not object too much to follow the Greek writers who 
from time to time have been most diligent in penning and most 
curious in searching after antiquities.** [*44] 


Pliny in these words very wisely limits his responsibility. 
He begins his description at the point where the sun sets at 



the Straits of Gades through which the Atlantic Ocean pours 
into the inland sea. At the narrowest point high mountains 
formed the barriers of the entrance and were named the 
Columns, or Pillars, of Hercules (immortalised in the sign of 
the American dollar $ representing the two columns bound 
with a garland). Hercules dug the channel by which the ocean 
was admitted; and the monkeys on either side of the Straits 
were regarded by the ancients as the evil spirits responsible for 
mischief done to ships and mariners. 

In Spain, notoriously the most troublesome province of the 
Roman Empire, we are made acquainted with the tradition 
that the Iberians, Persians, Phoenicians and Carthaginians at 
one time spread over the whole of the country, and that the 
name "Lusitania" was derived either from the Games (lusus) of 
Father Bacchus, or the fury (lyssa) of his boisterous attendants. 
Pan presided over the country and no doubt his patronage was 
intended to account for the wildness and turbulence of the 
inhabitants. Spain also, so Strabo tells us, was overrun with 
rabbits and the pest spread to the neighbouring islands. Ferrets 
had to be introduced from Africa to keep the numbers down. 

After Spain, France. Pliny emphasises the advanced civilisa- 
tion of Gaul, as in point of culture, wealth and manners more 
a part than a province of Italy. Italy with justifiable pride is 
lauded to the skies as the parent of all lands, chosen by the 
providence of the gods to unite the scattered empires of the 
earth, to bestow a polish on, men's manners, to unite the dis- 
cordant dialects of the nations and to become a great mother- 
country. For these destinies she was eminently fitted by Nature. 
The coast, climate, fertility of the fields, the cool groves and 
sunny hillsides, luxuriant forests, fruitful vines and olives, 
flocks, cattle, horses, rivers and springs all were benefits 
suited to advance the commerce of the world. 

In shape Italy resembled an oak leaf, being much longer than 
it was broad, and terminating in the form of an Amazonian 
buckler (rather like a crescent) with two horns at the end. 
Following the arrangement adopted by the Emperor Augustus, 
Pliny divides Italy into eleven districts and describes them in 



order down the coast line. We discover amongst other facts 
that the Tiber was more suitable for navigation by rafts than 
by ships for most of its course, and that "the Campaine" was 
in Pliny's day a blessed and fruitful country, a vale with hills 
rising from it, clad with vines that supplied wines famous all 
over the world. This was the fortunate land where Father 
Liber and Ceres were said to be ever striving for the mastery. 
Pliny does not forget to mention the ancient Neapolis, a colony 
of the Chalcidians also Herculaneum and Pompeii, so tragi- 
cally associated with his death. Prominent amongst the islands 
stood Capreas on which the castle of Tiberius stood. 

An interesting point is the mention of fire-walkers in Italy: 
"Not far from Rome, within the territory of the Falisci there are 
some few families called Hirpix which at their solemn yearly 
sacrifice, celebrated by them in honour of Apollo on Mount Soracte, 
walk on a burning pile of wood in great jollity and are never burnt 
one wit. For this reason it is ordained by an express act of the 
Senate that they should be privileged and have immunity from 
warfare and all other Services/' [145] 

The most famous of the islands of the Mediterranean men- 
tioned by Pliny is Cyprus, to which he says nine kingdoms at 
one time did homage. As a geological guess he suggests that 
Cyprus was on.ce a part of Syria and that it became isolated by 
"the fall and tumbling down of certain hills". Crete and Cyprus 
may possibly have been "the isles of the nations" frequented 
by the sons of Japhet; certainly they were steeped In the ancient 
mythology. Paros was the island of Andromeda; and Cyprus 
was the island of the fair-haired Aphrodite Anadyomene, the 
goddess of laughter, who was washed ashore after being 
brought from the North by Vulcan. "When she awoke on the 
strand, "risen from the foam", she smiled on the islanders so 
sweetly that ever since they treated her as a goddess and even 
to-day in spite of ecclesiastical protests speak of her as "St. 
Aphrodite". This Aphrodite, a picture of whom Apelles 
painted from the concubine of Alexander the Great, is to be 
distinguished from the other Aphrodite Malainis, "the dark 


Pannoaia, bounded by the Danube, and Moesia which ex- 
tended as far as the Euxine recall the most famous of all inland 
voyages. Conjecture has been rife as to the direction taken by 
the Argonauts; but it is believed as more rhan likely that they 
first reached the Black Sea and then either penetrated into 
Russia by the Dnieper (witness the Greek coins that have been 
found through Russia as far as the Baltic) or sailed up the 
Danube as far as was possible and then portaged their ship over 
the Alps, to take the water again at Nauplia at the head of the 
Adriatic. This voyage of the Argo could, according to pre- 
vailing ideas, only have been possible with the assistance of 
magic; and Pliny quotes Alexander Cornelius as saying that 
the ship was built of the tree Eone which was "like the Oak 
that carries Mistletoe, the timber whereof neither water will 
putrify nor fire consume, no more than the Mistletoe itself. 
But so far as ever I could learn, no man knew that tree but 
himself" an insinuation which somewhat detracts from the 
accuracy of the story. 

We next arrive at the Peloponnesus, situated between the 
^Egean and Ionian Seas, in shape like the leaf of the plane tree, 
from the angular indentations of the coast-line. It appears that 
attempts were made at different times by Demetrius, Julius 
Caesar, Caligula and Nero to cut through the narrow neck 
connecting the Peloponnesus with the mainland in order to 
save the larger vessels the perilous voyage round the peninsula. 
The usual custom was to carry the smaller vessels across on 
vehicles, but as the attempt to make the canal invariably failed, 
it was taken as a proof that these interferences with the designs 
of nature were impious and therefore impracticable. 1 

To the North rise the mountains of Thessaly, thirty-four in 
number, of which "old Pelion and the skyish head of blue 
Olympus 5 ' are the most prominent. Between Ossa and Olym- 

1 A more successful waterway was the Red Sea canal, begun by Necos, King of 
Egypt and completed by Darius. Herodotus says that in length it was four days' 
journey and wide enough to take two trieremes abreast. A hundred and twenty 
thousand Egyptians lost their lives in making the necessary excavations in the reign 
of Necos, who stopped the work because of the warning of an oracle that " he was 
labouring for the barbarian" an argument that has been used in more polite terms 
against the Channel Tunnel. 


pus lies the valley of Tempe over which Pliny waxes poetical 
The green tints, he tells us, are reflected in the waters of the 
river Peneus as it rolls over its pebbly bed; the banks are 
covered with tufts of verdant herbage and the melodious 
warblings of the birds make it a Greek Paradise. With it is 
associated Delos, so called from its sudden emergence from 
the ocean, famous for the great temple of Apollo, and reputed 
to have once been an Island which for long floated on the 
waves and so escaped destruction by earthquake. 


Through Macedonia, once mistress of the world, the traveller 
reaches the Hellespont, across which Xerxes led his army over 
a bridge of boats. Then on to Scythia/ the name given to the 
outlying regions to the north. One of the Scythian nations had 
azure-coloured hair (one would rather have expected the eyes 
to be blue), while amongst the other inhabitants were 

"The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads 
Do grow beneath their shoulders." 

"The report that the Scythians feed ordinarily on man's flesh 
would be thought incredible if we did not consider how in die very 
middle and heart of the world, even in Sicily, Italy, here hard by, there 

1 It is disappointing that PHny omits any reference to the Amazons in Scythia. 
He only mentions them as a type of "warlike women" whom rather unchivalrously 
the sculptors and image makers delighted to portray as wounded or dying. One 
would have expected Pliny to follow Herodotus in his historical account of a race 
whom the Scythians called the "man-slayers 1 *. It appears that the Greeks after the 
battle of the ThermSdon put to sea with their Amazon prisoners; but these rose 
and massacred the crew to a man. Then they sailed the ship to a part of Scythia, 
stole all the horses they could lay hands on, and attacked the Scythians. These 
northerners, discovering from the dead bodies left on the field the sex of their adver- 
saries, craftily adopted the tactics of sending out a company of young men who 
encamped as close as they could to the enemy. As by degrees communication was 
opened up by these peaceful measures, the camps joined amicably and later they 
all agreed to leave the country to find a new home. Thus it came about according 
to the story that the Sarmatian women, as a historical fact, observed the customs 
attributed to them of hunting on horseback, fighting in the Beld and dressing like 
their husbands. "Their mjtrriage-law*', says Herodotus, "lays it down that no girl 
shall wed till she has killed a man in battle. Sometimes it happens that a woman 
dies unmarried at an advanced age, having never been able in ner whole lifetime to 
fulfil the condition." 



have been such monsters of men, the Cyclopes and Lystrigones. 
To go no further than the other side of the Alps there have been 
even of late days those that kill men for sacrifice, and that means 
little difference from chewing and eating their flesh. 

"Near those Scythians that live toward the Arctic pole, and not 
far from that climate which is under the rising of the North-east 
wind, about that famous cave or hole out of which that wind is said 
to issue (which place they call the cloister or key of the earth) dwell 
the Arimaspians who are known for having one eye only in the 
midst of their foreheads. They carry on a war about the gold mines 
with Griffins, a kind of wild beast that flies and fetches gold out of 
the veins of those mines. These savage beasts strive as eagerly to 
keep and hold the gold mines as the Arimaspians are to get the gold 
away from them. 

"Above them are other Scythians called Anthropophagi, in a 
country called Abarimon within a vale of Mount Imaus, savage and 
wild men, living and conversing usually among the brute beasts; 
they have their feet growing backward and turned behind the 
calves of their legs, although they run most swiftly. These men can 
live in no other climate than their own, which is the reason they 
cannot be brought to other kings that border upon them, nor could 
they be brought to Alexander the Great. The former Anthropo- 
phagi, or eaters of man's flesh, whom we have placed about the 
North Pole are accustomed to drink out of the skulls of men's heads 
and to wear the scalps, hair and all, instead of mandellions (cassocks) 
or stomachers before their breasts. And in Albania there are a sort 
of people born with eyes like owls, of which the sight is fiery red: 
from their childhood they are grey headed and can see better by 
night than by day/' [146] 

Further on lay the impenetrable mountainous regions where 
snow fell perpetually, the flakes drifting like feathers. This 
was a part of the world condemned by the decree of nature to 
be immersed in thick darkness, suited for nothing except the 
generation of cold and to be haunted by the chilling blasts of 
the northern winds. 1 

1 In the furthest north beyond Scythia, Herodotus speaks of the country being 
concealed from sight and made impassable "by reason of the feathers which are shed 
about abroad abundantly. The earth and air are full of them, and this it is which 
prevents the eye from obtaining any view of the region." 

s 257 


But behind these mountains and beyond the reach of the 
blasting winds dwelt a happier race, the Hyperborei, noted for 
their longevity and complete immunity from sickness and 
disease, toil and battle. Here it was that the hinges of the world 
on which the world revolved were placed; here, too, the extreme 
limit of the revolution of the stars was reached. The people 
lived in woods and groves. Death only came to them when 
they were satiated with life. Then they used to leap off a rock 
into the sea, the happiest way they knew of ending existence. 
Most of the older authorities were in agreement that it was a 
place where a day lasted for six months and that it was therefore 
possible to sow in the morning, reap at midday, and gather 
the fruits at sunset. The night was spent in caves. One could 
imagine that these cave-dwellers were the artists who painted 
the deer and bison on the ceilings of their caves. 

Off the Scythian shores lay an immense island called Baltia 
where the islanders subsisted on birds* eggs and oats. Some 
of the people had the feefof horses and were called Hippopodes. 
Others had ears large enough to cover the whole body and so 
"save their nakedness'*. 

Scandinavia was another island of a magnitude not yet 
determined, where quantities of amber were washed up by 
the waves in spring. The German coast had not been fully 
explored, but it was known that five races the Vanditi, Teu- 
toni, Cimbri and Chatti lived in the interior. 

Pliny is able to speak from personal observation of a barren 
land devoid of trees where he witnessed a very early phase of 
European civilisation. He describes the conditions that pre- 
vailed when the earliest villages were built in marshy land by 
a lake, or river, or by the sea, either from motives of safety 
or to gain the easiest form of livelihood by fishing. Usually 
such dwellings stood on stilts in the marshy ground, and 
rubbish and fish bones would accumulate to form a more solid 
patch of ground as a kind of platform at the front door. 
Occasionally they would make an encampment on higher 
ground where a better look-out could be kept and existence 
would be less drastic. 



"In the North (he says) I myself have seen the people called 
Canchi (the lowlanders of Zeeland) where there is no show or 
report of any tree. For a mighty great compass their country lies 
so much under the Ocean and so subject to the tide, that twice a day 
and night by turns the sea overflows a mighty deal of ground when 
it is flood and leaves all dry again at the ebb and return of the water, 
insomuch that a man can hardly tell what to make of the outward 
face of the earth in those parts, so doubtful is it between sea and 
land. The poor silly people who inhabit those parts either keep 
together on such high hills as Nature has provided here and there 
in the plain, or else raise mounts with their own labour and handi- 
work above the height of the Sea. On these they set their cabins 
and cottages. Dwelling thus as they do, they seem (when it is 
high water and all the plain overspread with the sea round about) 
as if they were in little barks floating in the midst of the sea. Again 
at low water when the sea is gone you would take them for such as 
had suffered shipwreck, having their vessels cast away and left lying 
amid the sands: for you will see the poor wretches fishing about 
their cottages and following after the fishes as they go away with the 
water. They have not a four-footed beast among them, neither do 
they enjoy any benefit of milk as their neighbour nations do. Nay, 
they are destitute of all means to chase wild beasts and hunt for 
venison, inasmuch as there is neither tree nor bush to give them 
harbour. Seaweeds or Reek, rushes and reeds growing upon the 
washes and meers serve them to twist for cords to make their fishing 
nets with. These poor fools and silly creatures gather a slimy kind 
of fat mud (peat) which they dry against the wind rather than the 
Sun; and with that earth, for want of other fuel, they make fire and 
seethe their meat (such as it is) and heat the inward parts of their 
body, ready to be stark and stiff against the chilling North wind. 
They have no other drink but rain water which they save in certain 
ditches after a shower and those they dig at the very entry of their 
cottages. And yet see: this people (wretched and miserable as they 
are) if they were subdued at this day by the people of Rome they 
would exclaim against being reduced to slavery! True it is that 
Fortune spares many men, to let them still live in pain and misery." 1 

1 Herodotus also gives a life-like description of certain lake-dwellers around 
Macedonia. "Their manner of living is the following. Platforms supported on tall 
piles stand in the middle of the lake, which are approached from the land by a single 
narrow bridge. Each man has his own hut wherein he dwells, upon one of the plat- 



The German forest presented a lively contrast to the tree- 
less districts by the sea. The great expanse of oaks had in some 
places become so entangled and the roots so bound together 
that, where the sea was able to undermine them, great pieces 
broke away and became floating Islands, with the mighty 
branches playing the part of rigging. From what Pliny says 
these obstructions could be as dangerous as icebergs are to-day 
in mid- Atlantic. 

"Many a time such Oaks have frightened our fleets and armadas 
at sea; especially in the night season when the waves have driven 
them., as if of purpose, directly against their prows standing at 
anchor: insomuch as the sailors and passengers within, having no 
other means to escape them, were put to their shifts and forced to 
range a naval battle in order, and all against trees as their enemies I" 1 

Further inland the great Hercynian forests were believed 
to have been untouched since the creation of the world. So 
thick was the growth in many places that the bare roots had 
risen upwards and taken with them the earth; or where they 
had not raised the earth they formed great archways through 
which a whole troop or squadron of horsemen could ride in 
battle order. Pliny is evidently speaking here of his experi- 
ences in the German campaigns. 

Next in order is the great island of Britannia, formerly called 
Albion from the whiteness of her cliffs. Barely thirty years 
had elapsed at the time Pliny wrote since any extensive know- 
ledge had been gained by the successes of the Roman arms; 
and the Caledonian forest had not as yet been penetrated. We 
are told that Agrippa estimated its length at 800 miles, arid its 
breadth at 300; not a bad guess. Hibernia he thought to be 

forms, and each also has a trap-door giving access to die lake Beneath; and their 
wont is to tie their baby children by the foot with a string, to save them from rolling 
into the water. They feed their horses and their other beasts upon fish, which abound 
in the lake to such a degree that a man has only to open his trap-door and to let 
down a basket by a rope into the water, and then to wait a very short time, when 
he draws it up quite full of them. The fish are of two kinds, which they call the 
paprax and the tilon." 

1 A modern parallel are the floating islands to be met with in the neighbourhood 
of the Philippine Islands after heavy rains when pieces of land frequently become 
detached and are seen floating away with their trees and undergrowth in the normal 
manner, until they break up and gradually dissolve in the ocean. 



about the same In breadth and 200 miles shorter. The Orcades, 
or Orkney Islands^ were forty in number, the Hebrides thirty, 
and there were others called the Electrides, because they pro- 
duced electrum, or amber. Ultima Thule was the most remote 
land of all; and opinions have differed whether Iceland, the 
Ferroe group, or the Shetland Islands were indicated. At one 
day's sail from Thule was the frozen ocean which some called 
the Cronian Sea. 1 


Ex Africa semper aliguid novi is a well-known classical tag 
from Pliny. One of these novelties found in Africa were 
black gods and somehow they found their way into Greece, 
for Pansanias says he came across a black Demeter. It was a 
continent of fairy tales and incredible wonders. A Roman 
colony at Lixos was said to be near the palace of Antaeus, who 
fought with Hercules* Close by were the Gardens of the 
Hesperides, protected by an arm of the sea on the one side and 
a dragon on the other. Of the grove that bore the golden 
fruit nothing was left, Pliny remarks, except a few wild olive 
trees, and he wisely reserved his judgment as to the historical 
accuracy of the whole story. 

Near by was situated the city of Sala, on a, river bordering 
the desert, a region infested by troops of elephants and leading 
straight towards Mount Atlas, the most mysterious neighbour- 
hood that even Africa could boast of. This mountain, which 
Hercules once bore on his shoulders, raised its head to the 
heavens from the midst of the sands. It was rugged and craggy 
on the side facing the ocean; on the side facing the interior it 
was shaded by dense groves of trees and refreshed by flowing 

1 It is interesting to compare with this account the discoveries of Pytheas, a 
famous Greek navigator of the fourth century B.C. and a contemporary of Aristotle. 
What he said appeared so fantastic to PolyHus and Strabo that they would not credit 
his statements. Yet he undoubtedly reached Thule, six days* sail from Britain which 
he knew sufficiently well to be able to describe St. Michael's Mount and the tin mines 
of Cornwall. He also sailed into the Baltic and was aware that in the extreme north 
the nights were sometimes only two hours long an astonishing adventure. 



streams. During the daytime all was silent with the dreadful 
silence which reigns in the desert At night the hillside gleamed 
with innumerable fires, as the Satyr crew danced and gam- 
bolled to the clash of drums and cymbals. 

The only way of crossing the desert nothing except sand 
and serpents was to be guided by the stars. At last forest 
land is reached filled with wild beasts and elephants and tribes 
which built houses with blocks of salt quarried like stone out 
of the mountains. Sometimes springs were to be met with 
which remained at a boiling heat from noon to midnight and 
then froze until the sun rose in the heavens on the following 
day. 1 

The Nile was taken as the dividing line between Africa and 
Asia,. Its source was believed to be a lake in Mauretania where 
crocodiles abounded (Lake Tana in the highlands of Abyssinia 
seems clearly indicated). Then it travelled for an immense 
distance through burning sands, sometimes burying itself out 
of sight. Soon again it gave birth to dense forests of trees as 
it passed through the middle of Ethiopia. 2 When it reached 
the last Cataract it rushed with an uproarious noise between 
the rocks lying in its way. Afterwards it became more subdued 
and, wearied at last by the distance it had travelled, quietly 
discharged itself into the Egyptian sea. During certain seasons 
of the year its volume increased and then the inundations 
greatly promoted the fertility of the earth. Many theories were 
advanced for these periodic floodings. Strabo put forward 
the true reason that the heavy rains in a distant part of Ethiopia 
during the summer months swelled the volume of the river. 3 

1 Herodotus speaks of the spring called **the Fountain of the Sun" near Thebes 
in Egypt. The water was lukewarm at dawn, became quite cold at noon when the 
people watered their gardens, towards midnight it boiled furiously and then gradually 
cooled again. 

2 The Ethiopians had the reputation of being die tallest and handsomest men 
in the whole world; Isaiah specially refers to them as "men of stature", 

3 The Nile was the world's great mystery riven no wonder that the Egyptian^ 
worshipped it. Seneca was deeply interested in the problem and believed mat the 
key to the mystery lay in the existence of underground rivers and a hidden sea. On 
what other supposition, he asked, could one account for rivers coming to the surface 
unless the source of the moisture was shut up in the earth? The Tigris, for instance, 
disappeared to the depths of the earth and appeared again; the Alphaeus actually 



Witchcraft was prevalent, as it is nx>w 

"Isogonus and Nymphodorus both avouch that there are certain 
houses and families of sorcerers in Africa, who by their blessings and 
good words instant bewitch; so much so that sheep die, trees wither 
and infants pine and winder away. Isogonus adds that such-like 
people live among the Triballians and Illyrians who with their very 
eyesight can witch, yea, and kill those whom they look wistly upon 
for any long time, especially if they are angered and their eyes 
betray their anger; and grown men are more subject to this danger 
than children under fourteen years of age. This also is noticeable in 
them that in either eye they have two sights or apples. Philarchus 
tells us that in Pontus the whole race of the Thibians, and many 
others besides, have the same quality and can do the same. They 
are known, he says, by these marks; in one of their eyes they have 
a double pupil, in the other the print or resemblance of a horse. He 
also says of these men that they will never sink or drown in the 
water, even though they are charged with weighty and heavy 
apparel And Cicero, a Roman writer here among us, testifies that 
generally all women who have such double apples in their eyes 
have a venomous sight and do hurt therewith. 

"In the deserts of Africa you will often meet with fairies appear- 
ing in the shape of men and women, but they soon vanish away like 
fantastical illusions. See how Nature is disposed to devise full 
wittily in this and such-like pastimes to play with mankind, not 
only to make herself merry but to set us a wondering at such strange 

sank in Achaia and crossed under the sea and poured forth its waters again in Sicily. 
And was it not known that the Nile burst forth from the ground when the inunda- 
tions took place in the summer, when the stream was not swollen, as might he 
expected, from the rain from above? 

Here is what Seneca says: **I have myself heard from their own lips the story told 
by the two non-commissioned officers sent to investigate the sources of the Nile 
by our good Emperor Nero. The King of Ethiopia had supplied them with assistance 
and furnished letters of introduction to the neighbouring kings, which enabled 
them to penetrate into the heart of Africa and accomplish a long journey. *We 
came* (I give their own words) 'to huge marshes, the limits of which even the natives 
did not know, and no one else could hope to know; so completely was the river 
entangled with vegetable growth [the "sudd' 1 ]. The waters were impassable by foot 
and even by boat, since the muddy overgrown marsh would bear only a small boat 
containing one person. There (my informants went on) we with our eyes saw two 
rocks from which an immense quantity of water issued." This evidence was conclu- 
sive to the mind of Seneca who therefore rejected the theory of Anaxagoras that the 
rise of the Nile was owing to the melting of the snows on the uplands of Ethiopia, 
in favour of a belief in a great underground lake, or series of lakes, from which 
periodically the water collected there belched forth with extreme violence. 



miracles. And I assure you, she plays her part daily and hourly in 
such a manner that to recount every one of her sports by themselves 
no one is able with all his wit and memory. Let it suffice therefore 
that we have set down these prodigious and strange works of hers, 
shown in whole nations to testify and declare her power/* [148] 

Ethiopia was the mysterious land away to the south always 
at war with Egypt the Abyssinia which Milton faithfully 
described as: 

"True Paradise, under the Ethiop Line 
By Nilus head, enclosed with shining Rock 
A whole day's journey high.'* 

In one of its cities a golden cat was worshipped 1 a dis- 
covery made by the Roman expeditions sent to these parts by 
Augustus and Nero to find the source of the Nile. Stories were 
brought back of a strange island of parrots; and of another 
island on which the city of Meroe stood amidst forest land 
teeming with rhinoceros and elephant Still another mystery 
island, named Tadu, was ruled by a succession of queens^ and 
Ethiopia had forty-five kings in all ? presumably to accommo- 
date the many varying types of inhabitants. The reason for 
this remarkable divergence of type was assumed to be the 
prevalent heat which was an active agent in producing ex- 
tremely dissimilar forms and shapes in bodies. There was one 
race, for instance, without noses, the whole face presenting a 
plane surface; another without upper lips; others without 
tongues; others without nostrils. It is probable that the 
Africans distorted their features in those days, as savage tribes 
do now. Evidently the Roman explorers attributed the dis- 
figurement to natural rather than fashionable causes. Pygmies, 2 

1 The esteem in which cats and dogs were held In Egypt is shown by Herodotus 

to have been so great that if a cat died in a house, the inmates shaved their eyebrows 
as a sign of mourning; if it was a dog they shaved the head and whole of the body. 

2 The pygmies were mentioned by Homer and also by Herodotus who gives an 
account of an expedition into the interior of Africa. After crossing the desert the 
travellers came to a part where there were trees and while the young men of the party 
were gathering fruit **there came upon them some dwarfish men, under the middle 
height, who seized them and carried them off. They were led across extensive marshes, 
and finally came to ja town, where all the men were of the height of their conductors, 
and black complexioned." It appears that they were well enough treated. 



too, were found; also black men who stained themselves red, 1 
and others who lived on nothing but elephant's flesh. One 
tribe had a dog for a king, and the rulers divined from Its 
movements what were his commands. Some peoples, too, 
had the heads of dogs, and certain other peculiarities which 
suggest very strongly that confusion may have arisen between 
human beings and the larger apes. 

The deserts and "Vasty wilds" of Arabia 2 were frequented 
by wandering tribes, some of them named from the tents of 
goats* hair which they pitched where they pleased. The 
Nomads lived mostly on milk and the flesh of wild beasts, 
varied by an intoxicating liquor extracted from the palm tree. 
These Arabs wore the mitra, an early form of turban, and 
allowed their hair to grow uncut, although they shaved the 
beard, leaving the growth on the upper lip. They were 
accounted the richest nation in the world, because, so it was 
said, they drew wealth from the Roman and Parthian empires 
and purchased nothing in return an early instance of an 
exporting country refusing to accept imports. 

The chief association in Pliny's mind with Arabia was an 
unhappy one, because of the enormous quantity of incense and 
sweet-smelling gums exported from that country for use at 
funerals, whereas the gods in respect of the amount of incense 
burnt in their honour were shabbily treated. To make up for 
this defect it was a land from which the pearls came, beloved 
of the Roman women, and that helped to justify the title, 
usually assigned to Arabia, of "Happy". 

"It is an unworthy country for that surname that would seem 
to be bestowed by the gods above, whereas there is greater cause, 
to thank the infernal spirits beneath. For what has made Arabia 
blessed, rich and happy except the superfluous expense that men 

1 The Libyans, so Herodotus says, besmeared their bodies with red paint. 

2 Herodotus tells the story of the first "pipe-line** constructed across the Arabian 
desert: *The Arabian king, they say, made a pipe of the skins of oxen and other 
beasts, reaching from the River Corys all the way to the desert and so brought the 
water to certain cisterns which he had had dug in the desert to receive it. It is a twelve 
days* journey from the river to this desert tract. And the water, they say, was brought 
through iiiree different pipes to three separate places/* 



take in funerals, employing in burning the bodies of the dead those 
sweet odours which they knew were due to the gods? Those who 
are well acquainted with the world affirm that Saba does not produce 
as much Incense in one whole year as the Emperor Nero spent in 
one day when he burnt the corpse of his wife, Poppoea. Cast then 
how many funerals every year were made throughout the world! 
What heaps of odours have been bestowed in the honour of dead 
bodies, while we offer it to the gods by crumbs and grains only! 
And yet when men made supplication to diem with the oblation 
of a little cake made of salt and meal and no more, they were no less 
propitious and merciful; nay, they were more gracious and favour- 
able a great deal, as may appear by histories* But it is die sea of 
Arabia that has an even greater right to be called "Happy*, for it 
enriches more than the land, by reason of the orient pearls that it 
yields and sends to us. And surely our pleasures, our delights and 
our women together are so costly that not a year goes over our 
heads but that in pearls, perfumes and silks India, the Seres (China) 
and that demi-island (peninsula) of Arabia stand us in at least a 
hundred millions of Sesteries, But of all this mass of Spice and 
Odours, how much (I pray you) conies to the service of the celestial 
gods in comparison of that which is burnt at funerals to the spirits 
infernal?" [149] 

Arabia and Syria lead to Judaea* Jordan is spoken of as a 
delightful stream winding towards Asphaltites, a lake of a 
gloomy and unpropitious nature which produced nothing but 
bitumen. The bodies of animals refused to sink in its waters; 
even bulls and camels were seen to float. A reference occurs 
to the Essenes, a people living apart from the world, without 
womenkind or money, and with only the palm trees for their 
companions. Their numbers were constantly recruited from 
strangers wearied with the trials and miseries of life; so that 
profiting by the misfortunes of others this community of out- 
casts continued to exist for ages. 


Of India a fairly reliable knowledge was gained from the 
conquests of Alexander the Great. It was conjectured that it was 



possible to sail down the entire length of the Indian coast in 
forty days and nights. Eight nations inhabited the country; 
and the entire population amounted to a third of the whole 
earth. The rivers attracted the chief attention. Alexander 
took over five months to reach the mouth of the Indus, while 
the Ganges is described as flowing in a wild torrent until it 
reaches the plains where it quiets down and becomes immensely 

The chief note of this vast country is the profusion of 
riches and the wealth of its natural resources. One king alone 
had 60,000 foot soldiers, 1000 horse and 700 elephants magnifi- 
cently caparisoned and always ready for battle. Many different 
castes existed for tilling the ground, for military duties, 
mercantile pursuits, affairs of State and religion. The country 
was of great fertility, abounding in marvellous fruits, trees of 
the rarest excellence, 1 wild beasts and birds in endless variety. 
Gold and huge pearls were hoarded by the ruling classes. 
Coral reefs grew like trees at the bottom of the deep green 
water, and branches of this coral "foliage" were frequently 
broken off by the rudders of the ships. Tiger and elephant 
hunting represented the great national sport. Turtles supplied 
not only food but, from all accounts, lodging as well, since 
whole families were sometimes accommodated under one shell. 

In the descriptions of strange and miraculous peoples it is 
not easy to know to which part of the globe they belong, 
whether to India or Ethiopia. Geographical accuracy has to 
be sacrificed. But here is an account that applies fairly generally 
to the Far East: 

"There are to be seen many men there more than five cubits tall. 
They are never known to spit, they are not troubled with pains in 
the head, toothache or grief of the eyes; and they seldom or never 
complain of any trouble in other parts of the body, so hardy are 
they and of so strong a constitution through the moderate heat of 
the Sun. Besides this, among the Indians are certain Philosophers 

1 In "India" there were trees growing wild which produced a wool, according 
to Herodotus, exceeding in beauty and goodness that of sheep. (Baumwolle is the 
German name for cotton.) 



whom they call Gymnosophists, who from Sim rising to the setting 
thereof are able to endure looking full against the Sun all the day 
long, without winking or once moving their eyes; and from morn- 
ing to night can abide to stand sometimes on one leg and sometimes 
on the other in the sand ? scalding hot as it is. 

"In many other hills of that country there is a kind of men with 
heads like dogs, clad all over with the skins of wild beasts who in 
lieu of speech bark. They are all armed with sharp and trenchant 
nails and they live upon the prey which they get by chasing wild 
beasts, and fowling. Ctesias writes that they number over no ? ooo. 
He also says that in a certain country of India the women bear only 
once in their life and their infants wax grey (with white hair) as 
soon as they are born into the world; likewise a people named 
Monoscelli that have only one leg apiece, but are most nimble and 
hop wondrous swiftly. These men are also called Sciopodes because 
in the hottest season of the summer they lie on their back and defend 
themselves with their feet against the Sun's heat Again, Westward 
beyond these, there are some without heads on their necks who 
carry eyes in their shoulders. Among the Western mountains of 
India the Satyrs dwell, creatures most swift in footmanship, some 
times running on all fours, at other times upon two feet like men, 
but so light-footed that unless they are very old or sick they cannot 
be taken. 

"In the utmost marches of India, Eastward, about the head of the 
River Ganges, there is a nation called the Astomes because they 
have no mouths; they are hairy all over the body, but are clothed 
with the soft cotton and down that comes from the leaves of trees. 
They live only on air and the smelling of sweet odours which they 
draw in at their nostrils. They take no meat nor drink, only pleasant 
savours from sundry roots, flowers and wild fruits growing in the 
woods; and these they carry about with them when they take a far 
journey because they would not miss their smelling. And yet if the 
scent is in any way strong and stinking, they are soon overcome and 
die. 1 

"Higher in the country, even in the edge and skirts of the moun- 
tains, the Pygmies are reported to live. They are called so because 
they are but a cubit or three shaftments (or spans) high, that is to say, 

1 The story is repeated by Mandeville in connection with a race of dwarfs **of good 
colour and fair shape" in the isle of Pytan. **These men live by the smell of wild 
apples. And when they go any far way, they Bear die apples with them; for If they 
had lost the savour of the apples they should die non/* 



three times nine inches. The climate in which they dwell is very 
wholesome, the air healthy and always like the temperature of the 
Spring, because the mountains are on the North side of them and 
ward off all cold blasts. These pretty people Homer has said are 
much troubled and annoyed by cranes. They say that in the Spring 
time they all set out in battle array, mounted on the backs of rams 
and goats, armed with bows and arrows; and so down to the seaside 
they march, where they make foul work among the eggs and young 
cranelings newly hatched, which they destroy without pity. Thus 
for three months their expedition continues and then they make an 
end of their valiant service. 

"If they continue any longer, they are never able to withstand 
the new flights of this fowl, now grown to some strength and big- 
ness. Their houses and cottages are made of clay or mud, feathers 
and egg shells, although Aristotle writes that these Pygmies live in 
hollow caves and holes underground. 

a ln the parts of India where there are no shadows to be seen the 
men are five cubits of stature and two hand breadths over and they 
live 130 years and never age for all that, but dies as if they were in 
their middle and settled age. Ctesias says there is a race of Indians 
called Pandore inhabiting certain valleys who live two hundred 
years. In their youthful time the hair of their head is white, but as 
they grow in age it waxes black. Contrariwise there are near neigh- 
bours who do not exceed forty years and their women bear only 
once in their lifetime. This is vouched for by Agatharcides who 
affirms that all their feeding is on locusts and that they are very 
swift on foot." [150] 

Next to the marvels of India comes Babylon, the capital of 
the nations of Chaldaea, which for long enjoyed the greatest 
celebrity of all the cities throughout the world. 1 The circuit 
of its walls was sixty miles. The Euphrates flowed through the 
city between quays of marvellous construction; its water was 
pumped to water the gardens planted on the roofs of the 
palaces and probably also on the huge artificial mounds where 
the great religious ceremonies were performed. Similar hang- 

1 A curious custom of the Babylonians, according to Herodotus, was for the men 
to carry walking-sticks, carved at the top with an apple, a rose, a lily, an eagle or 
something similar, for they never used a walking-stick without some ornament or 



ing gardens "made in the air" are also recorded in the city of 
Thebes in Egypt, a city built so hollow that the Egyptian 
kings were able to lead their armies under the houses. Babylon 
after a while was eclipsed by Seleucia, a city founded by 
Nicator ninety miles distant. Seleucia's population was esti- 
mated at 600,000 and the outline of its walls resembled an 
eagle with expanded wings. In its turn Seleucia was deserted 
for Ctesiphon, founded by the Parthians. Why these vast 
cities were so quickly supplanted and robbed of their glory is 
not explained. Pestilence may have been a chief contributing 
cause and the sunbaked bricks used in building would fall to 
pieces in course of time and leave little trace. 


Finally we reach the remote and indistinct portions of the 
map where fictions so easily displaced facts. Just as the Nile 
separated Asia from Africa, so Europe and Asia were divided 
by many straits and narrow passages. One of these was the 
Hellespont, only 875 paces in width, a space across which oxen 
could swim; hence the name BosporL So near, in fact, was the 
opposite shore that the singing of birds and barking of dogs 
on the one side could be heard on the other. A more formid- 
able passage lay further on over the chain of mountains where 
the Gates of the Caucasus were barred with beams shod with 
iron, while a dank fetid stream flowed in the abyss below. 
Here was Cumania, a fortress erected to keep back the savage 
tribes beyond. At this point we see the habitable world 
severed, as it were, into two parts by the partition guarded by 
the two gates. On the further side we have hints of Thibet and 
China. The Seres, or Chinese, were famous for a special 
quality of cloth or tissue of silk. An ingenious theory has 
connected the Golden Fleece with a mass of silk in its original 
golden state; but the story of the sacrifice of the Golden Ram 
whose priceless coat was hung up in the Grove of Ares and 
guarded by a sleepless dragon is more consonant with Greek 
mythology. The Seres are described as a people inoffensive 



in manners and shunning intercourse with the rest of mankind 
although not unwilling to trade with well-intentioned strangers. 

On the western side of the world the Fortunate Islands in 
the Atlantic Ocean are reached. They included Ombrios, 
which had a lake among the mountains and trees resembling 
the giant fennel. A second island was called Junonia and con- 
tained nothing except a small temple of stone. Another island,, 
infested by multitudes of giant lizards, was called Capraria. 
Nivaria, crowned with perpetual snow, points definitely to 
Teneriffe; and Canaria, called by that name because of the 
numbers of large dogs (not birds) living there, must certainly 
be the Canary Islands. The vegetation was prolific fruit of 
every kind, the date palm and pine nuts, splendid birds, honey 
in the woods, papyrus in the rivers and the fish called Silurus. 
The great drawback to these otherwise delightful islands was 
the number of putrifying bodies of monsters thrown up by the 
sea and amongst them from all accounts many varieties of that 
problem of the ages, the sea serpent. 

What evidence is there that the ancients sailed round Africa? 
It would seem that Pliny takes it for granted, on the authority 
of Herodotus, that the southern voyage was made and hints 
also at a northern passage: 

"On the other side of Gades, a great part of the South or Meridian 
gulf (round about Mauritania), is at this day sailed. The greater part 
of it, as of the East also, the victories of great Alexander viewed and 
compassed on every side, even as far as the Arabian gulf. When 
Caius Caesar, the son of Augustus, warred in those parts, the marks 
and tokens of shipwrecked ships were, by report, still seen remain- 
ing there. Hanno likewise, in the time that Carthage flourished, 
sailed round about from Gades to the utmost bounds and lands-end 
of Arabia and set down that navigation and voyage of his in writing. 
Yes, and Caelius Antipater reports that he saw the man who had 
sailed out of Spain into Ethiopia for traf&c of merchandise; and 
report was made, touching the compassing about of the North that 
certain Indians who sailed out of India for traffic as merchants were 
driven by tempest and cast upon Germany. Thus the seas flowing 
on every side about this globe of the earth, divided and cut into 
parcels, bereave us of a part of the world, so that neither from thence 



hither nor from hence thither is there a thoroughfare and passage. 
The contemplation of this, serving to discover and open the vanity 
of men, seems to require a challenge of me that I should project to 
the view of the eye how great all this is, whatsoever it be, and 
wherein there is nothing which can satisfy and content the appetite 
of every man." [i 5 I I 

Dr. T. R. Glover, In The Ancient World., in referring to the 
reports made to Herodotus that the voyage round Africa, 
starting from Egypt, took three years, says that Herodotus 
himself did not believe the story on the ground **that at certain 
stages they had the sun to the north of them; but the modern 
sees in a moment that it must have been, if they really went 
round the Cape of Good Hope, and from Herodotus* comment 
concludes that this story about the sun was not likely to be 
invented". 1 

So the voyage in all probability actually took place, a voyage 
as surprising and romantic as that of the Argonauts. 

1 The passage referred to from Herodotus tells us how a number of ships, manned 
by Phoenicians, were despatched with orders to make for the Pillars of Hercules 
and return to Egypt through them. "The Phoenicians took their departure from Egypt 
by way of the Erythian Sea, and so sailed into the southern ocean. When autumn 
came, they went ashore, wherever they might happen to be, and having sown a tract 
of land with corn, waited until the grain was fit to cut* Having reaped it, they again 
set sail; and thus it came to pass that two whole years went by, and it was not until 
the third year that they doubled the Pillars of Hercules, and made good their voyage 
home. On their return, they declared I for my part do not believe them, but per- 
haps others may that in sailing round Libya they had the sun on their right hand/* 



Mediaeval Natural History 

MOST, if not all, of the natural history of the Middle Ages is 
to be found in the Bestiaries, the illuminated picture-books 
containing all manner of odd creatures with curious stories and 
allegories in the text. Their aim was one of serious instruction 
and owed their appearance mainly to a mysterious writer of 
the fourth century, Physiologus a pseudonym signifying 

Conjecture claims Physiologus to have been a Greek monk 
of Alexandria and, as might be expected from this centre of 
culture, he marks in no uncertain manner the association of 
religion and erudition which characterised the Alexandrian 

jEsop's Fables* written in the sixth century B.C., may have 
suggested many adaptations suitable for the teaching of Chris- 
tian ideas- but however varied may have been the inspirations 
of Physiologus the fact remains that there was built up in 
course of time a singularly unnatural natural history. Animals, 

1 Nor must the influence of Seneca on future mediaeval scientific works be over- 
looked as may Be seen from the following exordium in his Qucestiones Naturales 
in which die moral outlook is stressed and the benefits derived from the contempla- 
tion of nature fully emphasised. "It will be profitable for me", he said, "to examine 
the nature of the universe. In the first place we shall rise above what is base; in the 
second, we shall set the spirit free from the body, imparting to it that courage and 
elevation of which it stands in need. Besides, subtlety of thought practised on the 
hidden mysteries of nature will prove no less efficacious in problems that He more on 
the surface. And nothing is more on the surface than these salutary lessons which 
act as safeguards against the prevailing vice and madness faults we all condemn, 
but do not abandon. Let us enter then on an investigation of forms of water.^. . ."' 
This is the kind of introduction that was adopted almost as a matter of course in the 
Middle Ages, when God and His angels habitually heralded the discussion of the 
various processes of nature. 

T 273 


birds, reptiles, plants, trees and stones were made not only to 
adorn a tale but to point a moral; and the adorning knew few 

A symbolism derived from these natural sources was, after 
all, no new thing. The Bible was full of allegory of the kind. 
Therefore it was not altogether surprising that allusions to the 
characters and idiosyncrasies of lions, ants, serpents, horses, 
dragons and whales figured prominently in the works of such 
writers as Isidore of Seville, St. Ambrose and Julius Solinus. 
In 495, Pope Gelasius tried to stem the unruly tide and went 
so far as to decree that the bestiaries were heretical; but with 
no effect. They attained so edifying a reputation that so far 
from being regarded as heretical they were often bound up 
with that great book of devotion, the Psalter. 

In its developed state the bestiary showed that original 
research had died out and that no attempt had been made to 
advance upon previous observations of nature. The scribe at 
his desk and the monk in his cell deliberately invented, with 
the assistance of ancient documents, the new types of birds, 
beasts and reptiles which ought to have been, even if they were 
not, included in the scheme of creation. 

These efforts of the imagination attracted, and at the same 
time were encouraged by, the eagerness with which a number 
of eccentric facts, other than those derived from the simple- 
minded ancients, were accepted* One familiar instance of such 
improvisation is the story, believed to have emanated from 
France, that the crocodile was accustomed to shed tears of 
remorse and pity at having to devour a human victim. It was 
by such examples of ingenuity that the ways of Providence 
were made to apply to the world in general Nature was 
accepted as the great teacher, although in the eagerness to point 
the appropriate moral unpardonable liberties were taken in her 

Exaggeration was piled on exaggeration until the natural 
history built up by Pliny on Ms study of Aristotle and other 
writers was turned in too many instances into mere travesties 
of the truth. 



To take a few examples, Pliny had much to say that was 
both novel and entertaining about elephants; but he never 
advanced the statement that the largest of all living animals 
subsisted entirely on air. Yet this idea was widely circulated, 
and no doubt many edifying lessons were extracted from this 
crude improbability. Nor did the statement that perfumes 
refreshed the dove but killed the beetle originate with any of 
the classical writers who, as practical men, would more likely 
have advocated some drastic and repellent insecticides. There 
was, too, a notable difference of opinion about the habits of 
the salamander, which is well known to be a creature harmless 
to mankind and the frequenter of damp places. Pliny said that 
it was of so cold a complexion that if it only touched the fire 
it put it out, as if it were a block of ke. The medisevalist 
without any private research into the matter advanced the 
proposition that the further the salamander was away from 
the fire, the warmer he became a difficult creature to leave 
out in the cold. The hare, too, was said to be able to run 
faster up hill than down, although Pliny was content to say 
that it was the hairiest of all animals, and that it slept with its 
eyes open and grew two livers in Propontis, but only one else- 

Some of the allegories, however, had definite charm and 
distinction. The Eagle, the king of birds, according to the 
ancients, had been accustomed to teach its young ones to gaze 
fixedly at the sun without blinking. The mediaeval allegory 
taught from this incident the lesson of looking towards God: 
"Whoever is unwilling to fix his gaze on the Sun and loves the 
darkness of the world, he is despised of God as the young 
eagle." As a warning the picture illustrating the lesson shows 
an unworthy eaglet being ignominiously ejected from the nest. 
A fuller allegory concerned with the eagle showed how its 
youth could be "renewed", in the familiar words of the 
Psalmist. When its wings became heavy and its eyes dim, the 
old eagle would choose a place with a fountain, and then fly 
into the rays of the sun so that its wings were scorched and the 
blindness burnt out of its eyes. Finally it plunged three times 



into the fountain and, behold, It was born again and its youth 
renewed. 1 

The Lion as the noblest among the beasts symbolised 
Christ. In the bestiary he is to be seen seated among ivy 
leaves, obliterating his tracks with his tail This was a symbol 
of the Incarnation, the hiding of the divine nature when Our 
Lord came amongst men. The Resurrection again is illus- 
trated by a lioness guarding her cubs, which, according to 
tradition, were always born dead. Then on the third day the 
lion appears, breathes on them and brings them to life. 

The Tiger as a contrast was the embodiment of evil He 
typified the hypocrite spotted with numerous vices. Here 
again a new version of the Pliny story is given. It will be re- 
membered that the tigress pursued the hunters who were 
carrying away her cubs, and persisted until one by one the 
hunters released her young ones. The allegory Is made to 
convey the moral by means of an exceedingly subtle variation 
of this story that a man should entirely commit himself to 
God. The forest is the world with its dangers and temptations; 
the hunters represent the devil; and the stolen cub Is the Soul 
The deceitful hunters throw down to the pursuing tigress, not 
the cub, but a mirror or glass ball The tigress seeing her own 
image reflected in a smaller size mistakes the shadow for the 
substance and delays her pursuit. The image in the mirror 
stands for the deceitfulnesses and vanities of the world which 
exert a contrary power from good and cause a forgetfulness of 
the individual soul The Tiger and Mirror appeared as figures 
in heraldry; as also the Elephant and Castle, the Castle 
being the tower on the elephant's back filled with fighting men* 
Many quaint allegories centred round elephants, animals noted 
for their intelligence and docility. Perhaps the most original 
of these represented the male and female elephants in the char- 
acters of Adam and Eve. The mandrake which the female eats 
is the Tree of Knowledge, and she passes It to the male, after 

1 In King Henry IV the soldiers in their uniforms are said to be 
" All plumed Hke estridges that wing the wind, 
Baited Hke eagles having lately bath'd." 



which she conceives and brings forth a calf. The Dragon, the 
traditional enemy of the elephant, naturally stands for the ser- 
pent which caused all the trouble. 

Other ingenious allegories included the Antelope with his 
two horns (the two Testaments) with which he cuts down 
trees (destroys all vices). In a careless hour, however, he 
becomes entangled in a bush of heather (drunkenness and 
viciousness) and is thus caught and killed by a hunter. The 
Antelope in Collar and Chains also figures in heraldry as a 
reminiscence of the story. 

A secondary grade of creatures included ants, hedgehogs, 
mice (typifying gluttony and thieving), foxes lying cunningly 
on their backs feigning death in order to catch birds, crocodiles 
with two legs, hairy and horned, caught in the act of eating a 
man, dogs (a Dalmatian is clearly discernible in the pack), a 
wolf biting its paw out of annoyance, hyenas preying on 
corpses, dromedaries, cranes guarded by a sentinel holding a 
pebble in its claw which would naturally drop if he fell asleep 
and so wake the offender; deer drawing snakes out of the 
ground and eating them (a reference, possibly, to the story of 
their horns); a Phoenix resting on a ball of spices, looking at the 
sun which will presently consume it; a nightingale sitting and 
singing on a pyramid of eggs; a salamander in a fruit tree licking 
and poisoning the fruit; Sirens and Griffins tearing men to 
pieces. Then there were the fabulous animals of Pliny, some of 
them much improved upon, such as The Mantichora with three 
rows of teeth, blue eyes, lion's body and tail pointed with a 
sting at the end, features indicating an insatiable appetite for 
human flesh. The service of these monsters was to supplement 
the terrors of the Doom Windows in driving home to Chris- 
tian worshippers the undesirable prospect of entering the 
precincts of hell. Such horrors, always fascinating to a popular 
audience, were considered the means most ready to hand to 
instruct, or frighten, the masses. For these purposes the 
bestiaries were evidently not to be despised. The churches 
were full of similar allusions in decorative carvings on capitals, 
misericords and "poppy-heads", 



A reaction was bound to take place as soon as Intellectualism 
and sounder scholarship marked the period of the Renaissance. 
The wiser people grew tired of the prevailing absurdities and 
fictions and aimed at gaining a surer hold on scientific truth. 
But it could be exceedingly dangerous to speak too openly on 
matters that had received the approval of the Church, as many 
indeed found to their cost. Rabelais, for one, had good reason 
to hide any serious intention he might have behind a mask of 
jest and ridicule. 

With his inexhaustible sense of humour Rabelais found in 
the works of the ancients, and particularly in Pliny, a refreshing 
source of allusion, frequently of a ribald character, with which 
to embroider his somewhat mystifying philosophy. The 
Heroic Deeds ofGargantua and Pantagmel were enlivened by 
incidents which were, in effect, parodies and can scarcely be 
understood without a fairly close acquaintance with Pliny's 
text, Rabelais, much as he loved classical literature, did not 
hesitate to make uproarious fun of it. He could conjure up a 
truly exotic menagerie. His philosopher, for instance, at Ms 
studies is driven distracted by the noises around him by the 
prating of parrots, yelping of foxes, cheeping of mice, chanting 
of swans, grumbling of cushet-doves, muzzing of camels, 
buzzing of dromedaries, clamouring of cormorants, sighing of 
locusts, and a number of other varieties of clamour which 
it is unnecessary to recapitulate. 

Nor did Rabelais omit to parody the plant lore of the 
ancients. The herb Pantagruelion was a parody oa Pliny's 
description of Flax and its many uses. This marvellous herb 
in Rabelais' imagination grew to the dimensions of the Giant 
Beanstalk, and was used for medical and a large number of 
other purposes. The hangman employed it in the form of cord- 
age as one form of usefulness; and the subject of ropes and 
rigging leads to imaginary voyages in the air eclipsing the 
wildest dreams of Jules Verne. Aeronauts could alight when- 
ever the fancy took them at the many "glistening hostelries of 
the whole twinkling welkin" at the Bull, the Twins, the 
Golden Eagle, the Dolphin, the Harp and Flying Horse, the 



Ship, the Great and Little Bear and other signs familiar to the 
traveller, which no less a person than Mr. Weller recognised 
as a "collection o* fabulous animals". Thus the public house 
shows a noteworthy link with the undying past. 

One of the most effective uses of allegory ever made was 
in the famous passage on Freedom in the Areopagitica: 

"Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing 
herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible 
locks. Methinks I see her as an eagle mewing her mighty youth, and 
kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday beam; purging and 
unsealing her long-abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly 
radiance; while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with 
those also that love the twilight, flutter about, amazed at what she 
means, and in their envious gabble would prognosticate a year of 
sects and schisms." 

The full force of the references to the eagle might easily 
escape notice without a knowledge of the ancient and mediaeval 
lore concerning the king of birds. Milton himself supplies the 
best of all commentaries on the immense capabilities of tradi- 
tion when he wrote earlier in the same essay: 

"Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency 
of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they 
are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extrac- 
tion of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as 
lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous dragon's 
teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed 

Such dragons' teeth, as we have seen, grew in profusion 
throughout the Middle Ages and an acquaintance with them, 
however slight, is illuminating in tracing the literary and 
scientific development of Europe. 



Ancient Science in Literature 

THE variety of literary uses to which ancient "history"., or 
science, was put was comparable witli the variety of Nature 
herself. In process of time the source was sucked dry by 
the medievalists and then by the contrivers of curious literary 

One interesting transitional stage is marked by that odd 
compilation, the Travels of Sir John Mandwilh^ one of the 
most successful impositions in literary history. Actually the 
book was written by a Frenchman and translated into English, 
the authorship being attributed to a Sir John Mandeville, a 
knight of the reign of Edward IL So well was the fiction 
maintained that the author earned the title of being the "Father 
of English Prose", as Chaucer was the Father of English 

The book itself appeared in 1356 and is a mixture of de- 
votional literature and marvels of strange lands calculated to 
redeem the dullest work from any fear of monotony. No 
English prose work had hitherto broken away, even in part, 
from the orthodox subjects of religious interest, and care was 
taken even in this work not to be too bold in its introductory 
chapters, for the Holy Land is very fully described and, to all 
appearances, the impressions are derived from personal travel 
But beyond that limit the suppositional Mandeville appears to 
have drawn mainly on his own imagination reinforced by old 
historical works. He professes to a knowledge of Amazonia 
where a fierce race of women warriors dwelt in resolute isola- 
tion. There is also much about Ind, the Royal Estates of 
Prester John, Cathay and a new country of great possibilities, 



which threatened to eclipse India Java. Interpolated with 
these descriptions are allusions to those creatures of undying 
interest in antiquity the phoenix, crocodile, gold-mining pis- 
mires and others all of them with slight changes and refine- 
ments. A typical passage is that on the phoenix 

"And men may well liken that bird unto God, because that there 
is no God but one; and also, that our Lord arose from death to life 
the third day. This bird men see often-time fly in those countries; 
and he is not mlckle more than an eagle. And he hath a crest of 
feathers upon his head more great than the peacock hath; and his 
neck is yellow after colour of an oriel that is a stone well shining; 
and his beak is coloured blue as ind; and his wings be of purple 
colour, and his tail is barred overthwart with green and yellow and 
red. And he is a full fair bird to look upon, against the sun, for he 
shineth full gloriously and nobly/' 

The cockodrills (Peggotty's "Crorkindills" is not so far off 
the old spelling) are described as serpents; they "slay men and 
they eat them weeping". And, of course, they have no tongue. 
There are many echoes also of the traditional Ethiopia, further 
embellished. "In that country be folk that have but one foot, 
and they go so blyve that it is a marvel. And the foot is so 
large, that it shadoweth all the body against the sun, when they 
lie and rest them.' 5 

Diamonds grew like potatoes. 1 

"They be nourished with the dew of heaven. And they engender 
commonly and bring forth small children, that multiply and grow 
all the year. For right as the fine pearl congealeth and waxeth great 
of the dew of heaven, right so doth the very diamond; and right as 
die pearl of his own kind taketh roundness, right so the diamond, 
by virtue of God, taketh squareness/* 

1 It took many centuries for this idea of the propagation of minerals to be relin- 
quished. Voltaire, famous for his efforts to popularise science, as late as the eighteenth 
century rejected as unscientific the evidence of Genesis that the shells found on 
mountain tops had been left there when the Flood subsided. He preferred to think 
that the shells grew just as stones were known to grow; indeed reliable authorities 
had declared that they had seen with their own eyes the empty shells growing. 
The spirals were supposed to assist their growth in some peculiar manner and heavy 
crops were produced in this way. The variation in size of the Ammonite fossils, 
for example, depended on the length of time they remained in the earth; the spirals 
extended naturally and gradually. 



There were also the adamants, with which diamonds are curi- 
ously associated, rocks of loadstone, so common in certain 
seas that ships had to be made without nails of iron. Otherwise 
they would break up and sink. 

In reading Mandeville one gains the impression that the 
world is made up almost entirely of separate islands, each of 
them a mystery island with some peculiarity of its own. For 
instance, in the Ocean far away towards the north, was an isle 
"where that be full cruel and full evil women of nature. And 
they have precious stones in their eyes. And they be of that 
kind, that if they behold any man with wrath, they slay him 
anon with the beholding, as doth the basilisk." A noticeable 
record of the evil eye. 

But enough has been said of the literature of marvels. 
Possibly in time people became tired of extravagances, also of 
the allegorical fashion which exploited them, A lighter and 
more delicate tone took the popular fancy in romances and 
euphuisms. The Romances of Chivalry all professed to have 
had a definite origin in the past. The manuscripts, it was 
confidently asserted, were discovered buried in tombs or 
hidden in strange places where such treasures might be 
expected to be found; and the incidents narrated were held to 
be as fully worthy of belief as the so-called facts of natural 
history had been taken to be infallible. It is evident, for ex- 
ample, that the Canon of Toledo in Don Quixote examined 
with minute seriousness, even if the seriousness was partly 
assumed, the tale of the boy of sixteen who at one cut of his 
sword cleaved a giant as tall as a steeple through the middle as 
easily as if he were made of sugar paste; or the tale of the great 
tower, full of knights, which cut through the sea like a ship 
driven before a favourable wind (a story not unlike the account 
in Pliny of the snakes of Arabia which wove themselves into 
a kind of raft and lifted their heads to catch the breeze as they 
sailed across the Indian Ocean). 

Sancho with his nimble wit could use the newer mode of 
images from nature with great effect. When challenged to a 
fight for which he had little stomach, and being accused of 



cowardice for refusing, he warns Ms opponent of the kind of 
man he might become if he were once roused: 

"No man knows what is in the soul of anyone, and some go out 
for wool, who come home shorn; and God blesses peace, and curses 
brawls; for if a cat, pursued, and pent in a room, and hard put to it, 
turns into a lion, God knows what I (that am a man) may turn into." 

In England the influence became very marked. Lyly, the 
great exponent of Euphuism, drew copiously from the ancient 
stock to frame his similes and mannered conceits. He employed 
in doing so, it must be admitted, more polish than humour. 
The old natural history supplied him with a surprisingly varied 
collection of texts on which to hang his proverbs and dry 
moralisings. Of the brighter gems of decorative symbolism 
the following were taken straight from Pliny: 

"Though thou have eaten the seeds of rocket which breed in- 
continency, yet have I chewed the leaf of cress which maintaineth 

"Persian trees in Rhodes do only wax green but never bring 
forth apples." 

"Follow Apelles, that cunning and wise painter, which would let 
no day pass over his head without a line, without some labour." 

"Let them remember that the ostrich digesteth hard iron to pre- 
serve his health, that the sick patient swalloweth bitter pills to be 
eased of his grief, that youth should endure sharp storms to find 

"Wine should be taken as the dogs of Egypt drink water, by 
snatches, and so quench their thirst and not hinder their running." 

"As the adamant draweth the heavy iron, the harp the fleet 
dolphin, so beauty allureth the chaste mind to love and the wisest 
wit to lust." 

"Although the worm entereth almost into every wood, yet he 
eateth not the cedar tree." 

The taste for the exact antithesis and the perfect pattern 
waned after a while because people tired of a mannerism 
which, however skilful it might be, soon became monotonous. 
The influence of the critics also counted. Drayton complained 
that this 



"Talking of Stones, Stars, Plants, of Flshes ? Flies 
Playing with words and idle similes'* 

were the tricks of so many lunatics. Nor did Shakespeare take 
the Euphists very seriously, for he puts in the mouth of Falstaff 
some excellent examples 

* 'Though the camomile, the more it is trodden on, the faster it 
grows, yet youth ? the more it is wasted, the sooner it wears." . . 
"Look whether the withered elder hath not his poll claw'd like a 

parrot" . . . "To wake a wolf is as bad as to smell a fox/* 

These have the true note of virtuosity; and Falstaff caps them 
all with his reflection on Feeble's gallantry. 

"Well said, courageous Feeble! Thou wilt be as valiant as the 
wrathful dove or most magnanimous mouse.* J 

Shakespeare, however, had happier methods than to weave 
patterns on an outworn model. For one thing, it was too easy: 
"How every fool can play upon the word ! I think the best 
grace of wit will shortly turn into silence and discourse grow 
commendable in none but parrots/* 

The richness of his outlook on every aspect of nature was 
too sincere for him to be content with mere artificialities; he 
saw too many true images in nature with which to give 
emphasis and concrete effect to his expression. 

Miss Spurgeon has analysed and classified the metaphors 
and similes of Shakespeare with the discovery tint the vast 
bulk of them are drawn from simple everyday life; but natur- 
ally "there are others/' she says, "facts learnt from books or 
hearsay, which he can never have seen or heard: a lion fawning 
over its prey, a tiger stiffening its sinews, high Taurus* snow, 
the basilisk's eye or the mandrake's scream; there are some 
purely fanciful and imaginative, such as wit made of Atalanta's 
heels, and a man plucking bright honour from the pale-faced 

Evidently Shakespeare was an eager reader of the classical 
material that came within his reach, but probably also very 
much an opportunist in picking out such allusions and frag- 



ments as would give force and life to his plays. The science he 
knew was used by him to the fullest extent as a vehicle for 
poetical thought. The dew, to take one example, according to 
contemporary authorities was no mere form of condensed 
vapour, but a gift of the gods sent straight from heaven, trans- 
formable into such fanciful things as honey-dew, or the tears 
of flowers that wept when the moon wept, or converted into 
pearls (as in Pliny), or representing a nothingness into which 
Hamlet would have wished his too too solid flesh to melt and 
be resolved; or again in the malignant form of a curse, as 
threatened by Caliban when "brushed with raven's feather 
from unwholesome fen". 

His science was always the old science, not the new. Fire 
was an independent spirit that actually inhabited the flint, and 
danced along the yards and bowsprit of a ship in the manner 
of St. Elmo's fire. There was no end to the world of fancy at 
his command, nor were the marvels he narrates in any sense 
fictitious to him. The sweet uses of adversity could be quite 
honestly compared with the precious jewel in the toad's head 
as convincing a morality-saying as any. 

Even mermaids were a matter of faith, not of fable. Opinion 
had not changed since Pliny's day, and no mere fancy dictated 
the lines: 

"I heard a mermaid on a dolphin's back, 
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath, 
That the rude sea grew civil at her song, 
And certain stars shot madly from their spheres 
To hear the sea-maid's music," 

Nor was the astronomy of this passage a fiction. Shakespeare's 
authority was the Ptolemaic system, in which the eight trans- 
lucent spheres circled round the stationary earth, each sphere 
carrying its proper stars or planets. Instead of, as we should 
say, men jumping out of their skins the stars were said to shoot 
madly from their appointed places. He could also invoke the 
fixity of the pole-star which modern science would scarcely 



"But I am constant as the northern star, 
Of whose true fix't and resting place quality 
There is no fellow in the firmament.** 

The effect with which Shakespeare could use his knowledge 
of natural history to heighten the effect of tragedy was particu- 
larly striking. Tigers, bears, wolves, dogs that irritate and bite, 
monsters of the deep devouring their own kind, toads, serpents 
and scorpions, plagues of insects, the predatory owl which 
the diminutive wren fought so plucMly in defence of her 
young ones, spiders laying snares for unwary flies, monkeys 
and goats all these figures are used to work up the dark and 
forbidding atmosphere of Macbeth, Othello and King Lear. 
Also winds, tempests, and "impestuous blasts" threaten to 
"smite flat the thick rotundity o* the world% and so spread 

Traditional magic played its part no less thoroughly, and 
much of the old medicinal lore was employed with the deliber- 
ate intention of being revolting and haunting* It would be a 
mistake to imagine that the hell-brew of the witches in Machth 
was a mixture concocted in any spirit but that of deadly earnest. 
The belief in witches was so universal in Shakespeare's time 
that no trifling with their incantations would have been per- 
missible. The most lurid background therefore possible for 
the effectiveness of the tragedy carried enormous weight with 
the audience, with whom every fresh loathsome ingredient 
thrown into the pot must have conveyed a separate thrill of 
horror. To-day the scene could be parodied with the greatest 

From internal evidence it is almost certain that Shakespeare 
had access to Holland's translation, as is made clear by the use 
he made of a passage in the Second Book of the Natural History 
where it is stated that "the sea Pontus evermore flbweth and 
runneth out into Propontis, but the sea never rerireth back 
again within Pontus" meaning that the tides in the Black 
Sea were unaffected by the sun and moon and so remained 
constant. Othello in reply to Iago*s remark that he might yet 
change his purpose borrows the figure in the lines: 



"Never, lago. Like to the Pontic sea. 
Whose icy current and compulsive course 
Ne'er feels retiring ebb, but keeps due on 
To the Propontic and the Hellespont." 

And if we recall Pliny's tribute to Mother Earth and her long- 
suffering kindness to mankind we shall find a remarkable 
similarity of ideas, almost too close to be a coincidence, in 
Friar Laurence's speech in Romeo and Juliet 

"The earth, that's nature's mother, is her tomb; 
"What is her burying grave, that is her womb; 
And from her womb children of divers kind 
We sucking on her natural bosom find, 
Many for many virtues excellent, 
None but for some, and yet all different. 
Oh, mickle is the powerful grace that lies 
In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities; 
For nought so vile that on the earth doth live, 
But to the earth some special good doth give." 

It is true to say that he cared little or nothing either for the 
truth or the inaccuracy of the science that was handed down 
from the past. He worshipped Nature in whatever guise she 
might appear: 

"Thou, Nature, art my goddess; 
My services are bound to thy law." 

Also he marvelled at the blindness and obtuseness which dwelt 
in the hearts of the duller natures which were insensitive to 
her beauties 

"What, are men mad? Hath nature given the eyes 
To see this vaulted arch, and the rich crop 
Of sea and land, which can distinguish 'twixt 
The fiery orb above, and the twinn'd stones 
Upon the unnumbered beach?" 

In actual fact men were beginning in Shakespeare's day to 
use their eyes more intelligently and to analyse the operations 
of nature far more closely. Modern science was on the eve of 
breaking away from the old* Without exaggeration Shake- 
speare was standing at the exact point where the rich traditions 



of the past were giving way to a world of new possibilities. In 
1600 two events occurred whichy according to Dr. Charles 
Singer, marked the parting of the ways. One was the martyr- 
dom of Giordano Bruno, a disciple of Copernicus, for daring 
to urge his scientific convictions against the verdict of antiquity. 
The other was the publication of a work by William Gilbert 
entitled A New Physiography Demonstrated by many Argu- 
ments and Experiments, a book which laid down for the first 
time the principles now recognised as essential to any modern 
scientific treatise. It insisted that argument and experiment 
must come into play in determining every form of scientific 
truth; authority, in fact, was to be reckoned of no value unless 
confirmed by experience. In this proposition, which, strange 
to say, was then a distinctly revolutionary point of view, 
rested the gradual emancipation from the theories, beliefs, un- 
corroborated observations and superstitions which constituted 
the mass of ancient knowledge. Most of these remained, it is 
true, embedded in human consciousness; but the process of 
sifting evidence was now definitely setting in. 

It is therefore no idle conjecture that Shakespeare while 
profiting from the wealth of ancient thought and poetical fancy 
which he adopted as part and parcel of his stock of knowledge, 
enjoyed at the same time a freedom beyond that of his pre- 
decessors, a partial release of the spirit from the dead formalism 
of the past. His genius was **a bubbling fountain stirred by the 
wind" stirred, that is, by the new inspirations as well as by 
the old. In a Sonnet he raises the question "whether we are 
mended, or whether better they" a question not any easier 
to answer now than it was rather more than three centuries 

"If there be nothing new^ but that which Is 

Hath been before, how are our brains beguiled, 

Which, labouring for invention, bear amiss 

The sacred burthen of a former child! 

that record could with a backward look, 

Even of five hundred courses of the sun, 

Show me your image in some antique book, 

Since mind at first in character was done* 


That I might see what the old world could say 

To this composed wonder of your frame; 

Whether we are mended, or whether better they, 

Or whether revolution be the same. 

Oh, sure I am, the wits of former days 

To subjects worse have given admiring praise." 

We have already seen that "what the old world could say" 
was said again to admirable purpose by Shakespeare, more 
completely than by any other English poet. Then as to the 
world itself, is it not true that it is a book (to follow the simile) 
in which each man finds what his nature enables him to visualise 
and teaches the lesson he wishes to learn? Shakespeare's view 
of things and the lessons he taught from them were essentially 
those of the Greeks, whose importance lay not so much in 
what they saw as in the quality of their vision. For their world, 
in spite of its limitations (or possibly in virtue of them) and 
its obvious inaccuracies, was in a sense more secure and com- 
prehensive than the modern with all its doubts and hesitations. 
The Greeks at their best and they must be judged by their 
best were for all time a people whom 

"Business could not make dull, nor passion wild: 
Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole/* 

U 289 


REFERENCES to passages quoted in the text from Philemon 
Holland's translation of the Natural History - 9 in two volumes, 
London, printed by Adam Islip, 1601. 

[XJ I, 187 [34] i, 2^36 [66] ii, 4 

[3] M57 [35li>*72 [67] i, 395 

[4] i, *6i [36; 

i, 274 [68] i, 391 

[5] *> 166 [37. 

i, 290 [69] i, 418 

[6] i, 168 [38; 

i, 280 [70] i, 427 

[7] *, *7<$ [39* 

i, 286 [71] i, 601 

[8] i, 340 [40. 

i 275 [72] i, 5 5 1 

[9] *> 340 [41] i, 194 [73] 458 

>H333 [4231,293 [74l,553 

>i]I, 346 [43. 

i> 281 [75] ii, 374 

>2] i, 334 [44; 

i, 283 [76] ii, 374 

.*3l *> 354 [45] 

2 79 [77] ^95 

> 4 ] ii, 212 [46] i, 297 [7^3 ii, 97 

>5]%347 [47* 

i, 236 [79] ii, 298 

16] i, 400 [48; 

i, 238 [So] Xi, 294 

17} Ii, 401 [49] 

i, 250 [8x1 i, 453 

>8J 11,390 [50] i, 25 5 [82)1,497 

20] ii, 243 [52 

1,311 (84] 11,264 

>*] ^ 209 [53; 

> 3 10 [85] > 479 

22] i, 192-196 [54] 

i, 312-318 [$6] ii, 461 

23]!, 201-203 [55] 1,323 [87lii, 480 

24] 1,215 ts6]i*3 a 7 [88] ii, 481 

25] i, 209 [57] ii, 10 [89] ii, 600 

26] i, 219 [58] ii, 176 [90] ii, 61 1 

>7] i, ** M 

ii So [9] *3 

28] i, 231 [60; 

ii, 117 [92] ii, 614 

^9] i, 271 [61; 

ii, 82 [93] ii, 597 

30] i, 296 [62 

i, 443 [94] "> ^05 

3i] i, 199 [6j. 

i, 189 [95] ii, 602 

32] i, 207 [64 





535 ["<*]", 

553 [i35] i, 




546 [ JI 7] ii? 



535 [**8]ii, 

571 [137] i 




538 [119] ii, 


>3] ^ 




539 [**o] ii, 


: J 39 : 





537 [iax] ii, 








_I22] 11, 


! x 4i! 






123] ii, 








.124] ii, 








J 2 5] ii. 









5*3 1>45] i, 


! 1Q 8] 





582 [146] i, 







578 [147] i, 







580 .[148; 








491 [ I 49 






" I 3 I " 


568 [150" 








495 [151] 


3 2 
















Academia, 39 

Adamant, 181, 283 

-^Eschylus, 76 

JEsop's Fables^ 273 

Africa, 261-5; circumnavigation 

of, 271-2 
Agate, 184 
Alexander the Great, 9, 19, 28, 

45-6, 53, 58-60, 94, 9 6 > *37> 

141, 143, 145, 197, 21 1-2, 254, 

257, 266 

Ague, cure for, 40 
Albion, 260 
Alicorn, 67 
Alphabet, 132 

Amazons, 135, 2 5 6; Amazonia, 280 
Amber, 189-91, 258, 261 
Amethyst, 184, 186 
Ammonite fossils, 281 
Amphitheatre, 141 
Amulets, 40, 128 
Anaximander, 6, 74, 90, 234 
Ancient World, The 272 
Andromeda, 94 
Anenome, 122 
"Angel passing/* 163 
Animal, definition, 44; painting,20i 
Anise, 124 
Antelope, 66, 277; in Collar and 

Chains, 277 
Antipodes, 237 
Anthropophagi, 256-7 
Antony, 54, *oo, 129-30, 141, 185 
Ants, 106, 04, 175; ant4ion, 73 
Ape, 63, 264 

Apelles, 9, 197-201, 283 

Aphrodite, 254 

Apis, 62 

Apollodorus, 194 

Aqueducts, 224 

Arabia Felix, 143, 265 

Arabian Nights j 116 

Archimedes, 5, 236 

Areopagitica, 279 

Argonauts, i, 174, 255 

Aristomenes, 26 

Aristophanes, 103 

Aristotle, i, 5, 27, 31-2, 44-6, 

51-2, 75, 85, 93, 236, 243-4 
Armour, 135 
Arnold, Matthew, 101 
Arrows, 145 
Artemidorus, 252 
Artemisia, 229 
Arthur, King, 158 
Artichokes, 120 
Asbestos cloth, 140 
Asclepiades, 42 
Ash, 168 

Asparagus, 33, 120, 123 
Asphaltites, 266 
Astomes, 268 
Astronomy, 132 
Atlas, Mt., 261 
Atomists, 236 
Augustine, St., i, 132 
Augustus Cassar, 17, 28, 30, 60, 

98, 124, I33 ? *47> i<fy I 8o > 2 33> 

242, 253 
Averte ignem, 162 




Babylon, 101, 132, 150, 240, 25 x, 


Bacchus, 132, 253 
Balaenae, 91 
BaMa, 258 
Barbel, 102-3 
Barbers, 133 
Barlow, Mr., xi 
Basilisk, 71 , 284 

Baths, 35, 38, 123; of Rome, 224 
Bay tree, 166 
Beaks, brazen, 139 
Bear, 9, 55-^ 
Beechwood, 143 
Bees, 45, 106, 108-12 
Beetles, 37, 112, 114 
Belloc, Hllaire, x 
Beryl, i$5 
Bestiaries, 273-7 
Birch rods, 143 
Births, strange, 17 
JBhhops* Bibk^ 8 
Blackberries, 38 
Blackbird, 76, 84; white, 76 
Blood, 26-8, 157; drinking, 158; 

bulls*, 159; influenced by moon, 


Boa, 70-1, 102 
Bcethius, 6 
Borax, 152 
Bospori, 270 
Box wood, 142 
Brains, 27 

Brass, Corinthian, 211 
Bread, kinds of, 149 
Britain, 125, 154, 158, 251, 260 
Bruce, Robert, 25 
Bruno, Giordano, 288 
Brutus, 177 
Bucephalus, 60 
Bull-fighting, 62 

Busts of ancestors and authors, 207 
Buttercup, 125 

Butterfly, 112 
Byzantium, 103 

CABBAGE, 33, 123; wild, 124 
Caesar, Julius, 26, 51, 60, 162, 169, 


Caligula, 30, 144, 25 5 
Cambric, 139 
Cambyses, 62 
Camel, 62 
Camelopard, 62 
Canaria, 271 
Cancer, sign of, 102 
Cannibalism, 158 
Capraria, 271 
Carbuncle, 182 
Carpentry, 133, 141 
Carthage, ao, 130, 173, 179 
Caryatids?, 212 
Cassia, 70, 143 
Cassius, Die, 5 
Castles on elephants,,, 50; Elephant 

and Castle, 276 
Castor oil, 125 
Caterpillar, 40; remedies against, 


Cat-worship, 164 
Cato, 1<S, 34, 49, 130, 146, 210 
Caucasus, gates of the, 270 
Cccrops, 132 
Celandine, 115 
Centaury, 116 
Ceres, 132, 149 
Chalcedony, iSi 
Chameleon, 27 
Charmis, 41 
Cherries, 120 
Chens! phon, aa8 
Chin, 28 
China, 11, 151 
Cholcr, 27 
Chrysalis, in 
Chrysanthemum, i a(5 
ChrysocoHu, 151 



Cicero, 12, 38-9, 231, 263 
Cincinnatus, 9 
Cinnamon, 70, 143 
Circe, 158 
Circle, magic, 161 
Circus, 61, 152 
Citron tables, 141-2 
Classification of birds, 75; of fish, 

Claudius, 30, -So, 91, 242 

Cleopatra, 9, 99, 129-30, 141 

"Clinic", 40 

Clothing, 134, 139 

Cocks, 87-8 

Coleridge, 101 

Colours in painting, 204 

Colossi, 210 

Colossus of Rhodes, 223, 230 

Coltsfoot, 149 

Comets, 241 

Coral, 267 

Corn, 132, 171 

Cotton, 140 

Crabs, 102 

Cranes, 76, 85-6, 269, 277 

Croesus, 175, 177 

Cranesbill, 126 

Crassus, 15, 128, 176, 179 

Crayfish, 102 

Crete, 254 

Crinas, 41 

Crocodile, 45-7; mediaeval, 274, 

277, 281 

Crow, 16, 75, 82 
Crowfoot, 122 
Crystal, 181, 186, 215; pillars of, 


Ctesias, 5, 66, 268 
Cuckoo, 75? 8l " 2 
Cucumber, 123-4 
Cuttlefish, see Octopus 
Cymbeline, 71 
Cynocephalia, 160 
Cyprus, 254 

Cyrus, 20, 175 


Daffodil, 121 

Daisy, 126 

Dante, 236 

Darius, 144, 176 

Darwin, Charles, 93 

De AnimalibuS) 46 

Decorations, military, 129 

Delos, 256 

Democritus, 5, 15, 236 

Dew, 250, 285 

Diamond, 181, 187, 281 

Diana, temple of, 223, 228-9 

Dibutades, 212 

Dickens, xi, 40, 126, 248 

Diogenes, 15 

Dionysius, 5, 60 

Dog, 58-9, 277; dog-physic, 43 

Dog star, 243 

Dolia, 148 

Dollar, American, 253 

Dolphin, 9, 94-8, 283 

"Dolphin'* cups, 179 

Don Quixote, 282 

Dove, 75-8 

Dragon, 65, 66, 69 71; mediaeval, 


Drayton, 283 
Druids, 158, 167 
Drunkenness, 147 
Dryden, in 
Dwarfs, 16 

EAGLE, 9, 75-6; mediaeval, 275, 279 

Ear, 28-9; tingling, 163 

Earth, the, 237, 244-5, 287 

Earthquakes, 244 

Eclipses, 240-1 

Eels, 94, 102 

Eglantine, 34 

Elecampane, 123 

Electrides, 261 

Elements, 244 



Elephant, 9, 29, 47^5 *> 57, 7*> 

1 86; mediaeval, 275-6 
Elpis, 54 
Embroidery, 134 
Emerald, 183 
Empirics, 41 
Endymion, 240 
Ensigns, Roman, 76 
Epilepsy^ 30 
Eratosthenes, 236 
Erysipelas,, 38 
EsseneSj 266 
Ethiopiaj 66^ 262-4, 2$ i 
Euclid, 5, 236 
Euphorbia, 122 
Euphuism, 283 
Evolutionary theory, 44 
Eye, 29-32; remedies for, 39; evil, 

263, 282 
Eyebrows, 32 


Falconry, 77 

Falstaff, 148, 284 

Families, large, 17; likenesses in, 18 

Far from the Madding Crowd^ 240 

Fate, 171 

Fear, 22 

Festivals, 165 

Fig, 130, 169-70 

Fir, 168 

Fire, 244, 285 

Fire-walkers, 254 

Flying fish, 94, 9 8 

Forehead, 29, 32 

Forests, 260 

Fortunate Islands, 271 

Fortune, 22, 171 

Fox, 64, 277 

Frames, garden, 124 

France, 253 

Frankincense, 143 

Frazer, Sir James, 128 

Frost, 250 

Funerals, 30, 207, 165-6 
Furniture, 179 

GAMES, Greek, 137; prizes for, 208 
Gardens, 118-20; statuary in, 207; 

of Babylon, 223, 231, 269; of the 

HesperideSj 261 

Gargantua and Pantagruet^ 278 
Garlands, 127-8 
Garlic, 113 
Gaul, 253 

Gelasius, Pope, 274 
Generation, spontaneous, 112 
Gentian, 123 
Germanicus, 62 
Ghosts, 13-4, 162 
Giants, 16 
Gibbon, ix 
Gilbert, William, 288 
Giraffe, 62 

Glass, 187; malleable, iB8 
Glover, T. R., IK, 90, 272 
Glow-worms, 114 
Glue, 141 
Gnomon, 139 
God, 15^-7, 171 
Gods, black, 156, 2,29^ 261; house- 

hold, 165 
Gold, 134, 174-% doth of, 134, 

174; jewellery, 152; leaf, 177 
Golden Fleece, 175, 2,70 
Golden Goose, 79 
Golden Horn, 103 
Golden House, 174, 193* 123 
Goose, 75, 78-9 
Gourd, 124 
Gravity, law of, 138 
Griffins, <$9, 73 17S a S7 > ^77 
Gymnosophists, a<58 

Hail, 250 
Hair, cutting, 
Haldane, 90 



Hamlet, 8 

Hannibal, 50 

Hanno, 54 

Happiness, 21, 23 

Hare, 37, 275 

Harvesting machines, 149 

Hawkweed, 125- 

Heart, 25 

Hellespont, 270 

Henry IV, 248, 276 

Heraldry, 276-7 

Herculaneum, 5, 254 

Hercules, Pillars of, 253, 272 

Herodotus, viii, 5, 11, 27, 46, 48, 
51,70, 72,73,74, 90, 116, 135, 
*37, 139? *43> *75, 187, 214, 218, 
225, 255, 257, 259, 262, 265, 269, 

Herophilus, 31, 41 

Hesiod, 16, 146 

Hibernation of birds, 85 

Himalayas, 251 

Hipparchus, 241 

Hippocentaur, 17 

Hippocrates, 40 

Hipponax, 217 

Hippopodes, 258 

Hippopotamus, 56-7 

History of 'Biology ; ix. 

History of the W"orld, 7 

Holland, Philemon, 7-8, 122, 136 

Homer, 5, 6% 76, 123, 137, 145, 
157, 160, 162, 216, 231, 248, 264 

Honey, 37; -dew, 285 

Horse, 58-61, 76; -racing, 87, 152 

Hostelries, heavenly, 278 

Hyacinth, 121 

Hydropathic establishment, 38 

Hydrophobia, 34 

Hyperborei, 258 

IBIS, 70 
Ichneumon, 47 
Incense, 266 

Incoctilia, 154 
India, 45, 66, 266-9 
Insomnia, remedies for, 125-6 
Instruments, musical, 137, 145 
Invisibility, recipe for, 40 
Iron, 134-5 
Isaiah, 23, 70, 238 
Islands, floating, 256, 260 

JASPER, 185 
Java, 281 
Job, 144 

Johnson, Dr., 1 1 
Jordan, 266 
Junonia, 271 

Jupiter, 75, 171-2, 213; statue of, 

King Lear, 23 
Knee, 28 

LABYRINTHS, the four, 225-8 

Lake-dwellers, vii, 258-9 

Laocoon, 221 

Lamb, Charles, 25, 74 

Lapis lazuli, 183 

Laurel, 165 

Lead, 33 

Leek, 33 

Leontopodium, 126 

Lepidus, 196 

Lettuce, 120, 123-4 

Lightning, 244, 249 

Lilies, 121 

Linen, 140 

Linnaeus, 75, 93 

Lion, 9, 51-5, 65-6, 88; mediaeval, 


Liquors, home-made, 148 
Literary History of Rome, ix 
Liver, 27-8 
Loadstone, 188, 282 
Lobster, 92, 98 
Locust, 45, 115; of the sea, 92 



Lollia Paulina, 99 
London, 2 

Longevity, 16 
Ludius, 203 
LycidaS) 248 

Lyly, 283 
Lysimachia, 123 

Lysistratus, 213 

Machth^ 55,83,286 

Mackerel, 103 

Magic, 36, 1 57~<So 

Magpie, 84 

Mandeville, xii, 47, <5*, 73* 8 4? % 

93, iSi, 187, 238, 268, 280 
Manticora, 277 
Marathon, 19 
Marble, kinds of, 215 
Marigold, 122 
Marmoset, 63 
Marvell, 92 

Martin Ckuglewit, 248 
Mastiff, 59 
Masts, 138 
Mausoleum, 223, 229 
Mead, 148 
Measurements of earth, 252; of 

Britain, 2<$o 
Medals, gold, 153, 174 
Medicine, herbal, 07 
Mela, 251 
Meleagrides, 190 
Memory, remarkable, 20- 1 
Mendelian theory, 18 
Merchant off^enxc^ 239 
Mercury, 132 
Merlin, 158 
Mermaids, 74, 94, 285 
Mermen, 74 
"Meteor", 246 
Meteorites, 250 
Mice, 63, 277; boiled, 37 
MjchaeFs Mount, St., 261 

Midas, 152, 175 

Milk for sacrifice, 146 

Millionaires, Roman, 175 

Milo, 19 

Milton, 248, 263, 279 

Mint, 124 

Mirrors, 154 

Mistletoe, 167, 255 

Mithridates, 20, 36, 158 

Modelling, origin of, 212 

Mongoose, 71 

Monkey, 63 

Monoceros, 66 

Monochrome, 194 

Monoscelli, 268 

Moon, 240, 243 

Moonstone, 188 

Mosquito nets, 140 

Mullet, red, 102 

Munena, 101 

Mushrooms, no 

Music of the Spheres, 235, 139 

Mustard, 124 

Myrrh, 143 

Myrtle, 167 

NAILS, paring ,163 

Narcissus, 121 

Narwhal, 67 

Nature, 11, 12, 156, ?*> 2 5 2 ? a8 7 

Nautilus, 94, 97 

Navigation, 137-9 

Nero, % 19, 30, 33* 38, 141, 144, 
152, 159, i% 170, 174, 184, 187 
192, 210, 21 1, 123, z$5, 2% 266 

Nets, 140 

Nettle, stinging, 115 

Nightingale, 9, 75> 79-* *> 8 4i 2 77 

Nit niti 6otuim 9 i6z 

Nile, 45, 150, 162; Htatue of, 215 

Nivaria, 171 

Numa, 171, 214 

Nutshell, 10 




Ocean, the, 90 

Octopus, 93, 94, I03 -5 

(Snothera, 126 

Oil for waves, 249 

Olympic Games, 137, 194, 208 

Olympus, Mt., 255 

Ombrios, 271 

Omens, 164 

Onion, 33, 123 

Onyx, 185 

Opals, 185 

Opici, 34 

Orcades, 261 

Orcae, 91 

Ostrich, 75, 78, 283 

Othello, 286 

Our Mutual Friend^ 40 

Owl, 37, 75> 78 

Paintresses, 205 
Palladium, 161 
Pandore, 269 
Pannonia, 255 
Pantagruelion, 278 
Pantheon, 221 

Paradise Lost y nt 

Parrhasius, 194-7 

Pan-ots, 75, 84, 284; island of, 264 

Parrot-fish, 102 
Pasiteles, rK) 
Pat/ de fois gr^as, 78 
Pater, Walter, x 
Peacock, 75, 82 
Pearls, 99, 191 
Pegasi, 69 
Peloponnesus, 255 
Pen-dragon, 70 
Pennyroyal, 124 
Pepys, 249 
Phidias, 207, 217, 231 

Phidippides, 19 

Phoenix, 16, 36, 65, 67-9, 75, 143, 

277, 281 
Physeter, 91 
Physicians, 33-4, 40-3 
Physiologus, 273 
Physionomy, 31-2 
Pictures, bird-scaring, 196 
Pigeons, 77 
Pillows, 79 
Pipe-line, 265 

Planets, 240; colours of, 241 
Plaster casts, 213 
Plato, i, 5, 111,239 
Platters, 155 

Pliny the Younger, 1-2, 14, 21, 95 
Plutarch, 28, 60, 156, 197, 242 
Pceony, 122 
Poison, remedies against, 36, 66; 

blessings of, 245 
Pole-star, 285 
Politian, 6 
Polycrates, 182 
Polygnotus, 194 
Pompeii, 5; paintings at, 254 
Pompey the Great, 48, 51, 176, 

1 80, 191, 242; his theatre, 17 
Pontus, 286 
Pope, 20, 55 
Popinjay, 84 
Porsena, 136 

Potters, Company of, 214 
Pottery, 155 
Poultry, 75, 87-9 
Praxiteles, 213, 218 
Prester John, 281 
Prometheus, 134, 152 
Protogenes, 199-203 
Ptolemaic system, 285 
Pulse, 3 1, 41 
Punic wars, 51 
Purgatives, 43 
Pygmies, 76, 85, 264, 268 
Pyramids, 223, 231 



Pyrelcus, 203 
Pythagoras, 235 
Pytheas, 261 

Queestiones Natural^ 44 

Quicksilver, 177 

RABELAIS, 278-9 

Radish, 33, 123 

Rains, strange, 249 

Rainbow, 250 

Raleigh, Sir Walter, 7 

Rameses, 232 

Rat, 63 

Raven, 16, 75> %-~4 

Records, athletic, 19 

Red Sea canal, 255 

Reeds, 145 

Res rustics, 6 

Restharrow, 126 

Revelations^ 23 E 

Reynolds, Sir Joshua, 203 

Rhinoceros, 29, 37, 55-7? 66 

Rings, 15, 154, 174 

Ritual, importance of, 163-4 

Roc, 69 

Romeo and Juliet y 287 

Romulus, 170-1 

Roses, 121 

Rostra, 139 

Royal Arms, 65-6 

Ruby, 182-3 

Rue, ix, 36, 124 

Rust, prevention of, 137 


Sahara, desert of, 262 
Sails, 141 

St. John's Wort, 37 
Sala, 261 

Salamander, 275, 277 
Salamis, 241 
Salaries, 39 
Salt,39; a grain of, 36 
Samphire, 126 

Samson, 112 

Sandpiper, 46 

Sapphire, 183 

Sardonyx, 182 

Sarmatians, 61 

Satyrs, 262, 168 , 

Saxifrage, 127 

Seals natur&j 44 

Seals gemonia^ 59 

Scandinavia, 258 

Scaurus, 57, 173, 215 

Science, value of ancient, x 

Sciopodes, 268 

Scipio, 20 

Scopas, 220, 230 

Screech-owl, 75, 81 

Scythes, 1 5 1 

Scythians, 60, 256 

Sea-coweumber, 92 

Sea-dogs, 92^ 99 

Sea-serpent, 101, 271 

Sea-urchins, 98 

Seleucia, 270 

Semiramis, obelisk of, 223 

Seneca, 23, 4** 44> ^3, 120, 171, 

243, 2^4, 273 
Seres, n, 270 
Serpent, 9, 70-1, 282; winged, 143; 

charming, 163; afraid of ash 

leaves, 169 
Sewers of Rome, 214 
Sex, change of, 18 
Shakespeare, 21, 55, 68, 90, 196, 

284 tt f . 
Sheep, 45 

Signatures, doctrine of, 36 
Silver, 178 et &$* 
Silkworm, 45, 114 
Simncl cakes, 149 
Simples, 33 

Sinbad the Sailor, xi, 69, 188 
Singer, C*, viii, iSS 
Sirens, 69, 277 
Skin, 19 



Skull, 27 

Smoking, 149 

Sneezing, 162 

Snow, 250 

Socrates, 15 

Soles, 98 

Sophocles, 190 

Soul, the, 21 

Spain, 253 

Spider, 106, 112-4 

Springs, medicinal, 38 

Spurgeon, Miss, 284 

Stag, 1 6, 277; -beetles, 114 

Statues, 173, 1 80, 207 et seq.; 

painted, 216 
Stertinius, 41 
Stiletto, 137 
Stoics, ii ? 21, 44, 156 
Stones multiplying, 188 
Stork, 86 

Strabo, 6, u, 174, 262 
Strength, feats of, 19 
Strigil, 133 
Suetonius, 174 
Sun, 240, 243 
Sundial, 139 
Superstitions, i 56 et seq. 
Suspension bridge, 137 
Swallows, 85, 87 
Swan, 86 
Sword-fish, 98 


Tails, docking dogs', 34 

Tarquin, 119, 153, 174, 225 

Tears, 12 

Tempe, vale of, 255 

Tennis, 137 

Textiles, 133, 139 

Thales, 234, 241 

Thapsia, 38 

Thebes in Egypt, 270 

Theodorus, 211 

Theophrastus, 5, 56, 117, 188 

Thessalus, 41 

Threshing, 150; -floor, 24 

Thucydides, 5 

Thule, 261 

Thunder, 249 

Tiber, 254 

Tiberius, 30, 83, 124, 147, 158, 162, 

166, 188, 212, 234 
Tiger, 55, 57-8; and Mirror, 276 
Times, The, 125, 247 
Tin, 154 
Topaz, 182 
Tortoise, 65; -shell, 98, 179, see 


Tragopan, 69 

Translation, Elizabethan, xi, 7 
Trees, sacred, 165-70; spirits of, 

1 68; prophetic, 169 
Triton, 74, 94 
Trochilos, 46 
Trogus, 17, 31-2 
Tunny, 94, 98, 103 
"Turncoat," 72 
Turquoise, 186 
Turtle, 98, 267 
Typhon, 242, 248 

Unicorn, 57, 65-7 

Varro, i, 6, 19, 145, 162, 221 
Vasari, 193 
Vegetables, 33, 123 
Venus of Cnidos, 218 
Vermilion, 213 
Vespasian, 2, 3, 8 
Vesuvius, eruption of, 4-5 
Vinegar for waves, 249 
Violet, i2i 2 
Viper's Bugloss, 36 
Virgil, 44 

Vision, remarkable, 20; in the sky, 



Voice, 31 
Voltaire, 231, 281 


Walking-sticks, Babylonian, 269; 

of myrtle, 167 
Walnut, 36 

War, implements of, 134-$ 
Wasps, 112; queen-, 4 
Water, drinking, 41-3 
Water-clock, 139 
Waterspout, 248 
Weather lore, 246 
Werewolf, 72 
Whales, 91, 94, 9 g 
Wheat, 150 
Whetstone, 151 

Whirlwind, 248 

Winds, 247 

Wine, 145-8; -press, 151 

Witchcraft, 262, 286 

Woad, 126-7 

Wolf, 72, 75 ^77* ^4 

Women drinking wine, 146 

Wood-worm, 106 

Worm of Ganges, 102 

Wormwood, 148 



Zenodorus, 2x0 
Zeuxxs, 194-7 
Zodiac, signs of, 238